“Our genes load the gun, but our environment pulls the trigger.”
Have you heard this before? We are not stuck with our genes. We can change the expression of our genes with every bite we take, step we take, thought we think. This is the concept of epigenetics.
I recently found out I have a copy of a gene mutation called MTHFR. Because I refer to this in many of my recipes as my motivation for eating the way I eat, I want to break it down in an easy, Cliffs notes kind of way. There are many websites out there that can explain it in depth (like this and this), but here are the basics:
An estimated 30-60% of the population has at least one copy of this gene. When you have MTHFR, your body cannot fully convert folic acid into methylfolate, the methylated form of folate, and some experts suggest that ANY folic acid consumed will block the absorption of folate – even that which you consume in whole foods. This is detrimental to our brain health, because neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine need methylfolate for production.
Common health concerns sometimes associated with MTHFR include:
- ADHD, autism, mental illness (depression, anxiety, bipolar)
- Autoimmune disease/thyroid disorders
- Digestive issues
- Recurrent miscarriages
- Hormonal issues, like PCOS
- Blood clots, stroke, embolism
- And many many more (it’s a rabbit hole)
People with MTHFR also have a difficult time absorbing vitamin B12 and detoxification. This is why you’ll see me post a lot of recipes with grass fed beef – a great form of B12. I try to eat cruciferous vegetables every day for the purposed of daily detoxifcation. Choline found in eggs help our neurotransmitters as well.
*Note: even for people without this gene mutation, folic acid still takes a conversion process and some have linked folic acid to cancer. So just because you don’t have MTHFR, you’re not completely in the clear. Many popular supplements and protein powders contain folic acid. Read your labels.
There are two genes that have been studied the most – C677T and A1298C. You are heterozygous if you have one copy, homozygous if you have two, and compound heterozygous if you have one of each. Dr. Amy Myers has a really great graphic of the breakdown of each as it relates to detoxification and storage of toxins here.
I have one copy of C677T so this means that 50% of toxins are stored, 50% are detoxed (which could possible explain the bad reaction I had to Tdap a few years ago – people with this mutation may be more sensitive to vaccine injury). Because lip and tongue ties are also associated with MTHFR, I suspect my two boys have a copy or two as well.
You can discover your “mutant status” with a DNA service like 23 and Me. I then ran that raw data through Genetic Genie for free. But there are many doctors who are now testing for it, too.
So what do we do about it? The beauty of epigenetics is that we don’t have to go cry in a corner about our tainted genes. We can take action. If you don’t want to spend the money to get tested, but you have some of the issues listed above, it doesn’t hurt to adopt some of the following strategies.
Note: I am NOT perfect at all of these things, all the time. But taking small steps and increasing your awareness can bring a whole new level of health and well-being you didn’t know existed!
- Stop using products enriched with folic acid. Sad news – everything is enriched with folic acid. All processed/refined carbs, all enriched flour. This was mandated by the FDA in the late 90s, before anyone knew what a detrimental effect it would have on our population. Start reading your label ingredients. (Interesting to think about the rise of mental illness and autism since then, right?)
- Stop using Tylenol. Tylenol depletes the body’s ability to produce glutathione, necessary for detoxification. Many doctors are now voicing their concerns about the harm in using Tylenol, especially in children. It’s not worth it.
- Load up on leafy greens and cruciferous veggies. Not only do they have amazing abilities to detoxify your body and restore neurotransmitter health, they also contain lots of fiber to nourish your gut health, increase good bacteria and short chain fatty acids. Which leads to…
- Take care of your gut. People with poor gut health have a decreased ability to absorb nutrients, and MTHFR makes it even harder. Stay away from processed oils and foods that break down the gut lining, limit sugar and alcohol. Take quality probiotics with digestive enzymes (here’s my favorite).
- Take care with anticholinergic drugs that block choline absorption. Talk to your doctor about safer options, and stay away from antacids and proton pump inhibitors that wreck your gut and deplete B12.
- Detoxification on the daily – whether it’s sweating from exercise, saunas, epsom salt baths, bentonite clay masks, dry skin brushing – learn to detox frequently.
- Take quality supplements. Methylfolate and B12 in the methylcobalamin form are important, but turmuric and omega 3s are also huge for the anti-inflammatory properties. Some suggest MTHFR is a riboflavin deficiency, so be sure that is included in any multivitamin you take. Magnesium is referred to as “Nature’s Xanax,” and can be very beneficial for those predisposed to mental illness (and many of us mutants are).
- Be aware of metals and other chemical toxins you are exposed to. Get rid of your aluminum deodorant, check your skincare, makeup and household products and their toxin level on the app Think Dirty or EWG’s database.
I wouldn’t be making this list or even writing this post if I hadn’t been positively impacted by this knowledge myself. Learning about MTHFR took me from feeling “stuck” with my genes to living with the awareness that I CAN change the trajectory of my future, step by step. I am seeing drastic changes in my kids’ health as well, and that is empowering!
You are NOT stuck with bad genes. You CAN change the expression of your genes – for better or for worse.
Comment below if you’re a fellow mutant and have found other supplements/tips for success! I’d love to hear what I’m missing!