What is the real truth about MTHFR? Does it really matter?
We are passionate about helping people get better. Part of this passion is about educating and supporting colleagues in the area of epigenetics. There is quite a buzz stirring around epigenetic enzymes at this time, specifically around what is known as MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase). This hype has led to some additional understanding but when MTHFR is looked at in a solitary approach, harm can and often occurs.
Let us explain. Many patients have a knee jerk response when they are made aware of a MTHFR variation or mutation, what some call “SNP”. In many cases patients may self prescribe or in some cases practitioners will prescribe supplements for this specific “SNP”. But it is vital to look at MTHFR variations in concert with other genetic variations. If one does not understand the interconnectedness and biochemical communication of the vast genetic picture, including other genetic variations, harm can occur. In the many cases, of knee jerk reactions by patient or practitioners, we see people ingesting too high of doses frequently of folate or worse folic acid. Taking too much folate or folic acid (*Side note: please don’t give or take folic acid – for more information click here), we see individuals that have increased anxiety, racing thoughts, sleep disturbances, heart palpitations, headaches, irregular menses, worsened thyroid function, itching and rashes.
Unfortunately, we see this far too often when people show up at our office confused and sharing that their chief complaint is MTHFR. Some people prior to seeing us have independently decided to take a supplement and now they are really struggling. In some cases individuals are dabbling in a deep body of complex waters without understanding the full landscape around the body of water. As much of the environment surrounding the water needs to be understood before diving into that body of water. Similar to a body of water, understanding the depth, the currents, the temperature, the winds are essential before deciding where and how to dive. Likewise having an understanding about the epigenetic picture beyond MTHFR is essential before therapy is started.
The idea that across the board a MTHFR enzyme variation has to be treated or supplemented is a fallacy. It is important to note that there are numerous MTHFR enzymes. The most common ones that are discussed in the literature include MTHFR677 and MTHFR1298. These are not the only MTHFRs but the ones that are most recognized and supported with current research at this time. In many cases, directly supplementing can cause people to get worse.
MTHFR enzymes are responsible for adding a methyl group. This dynamic process of adding and subtracting methyl groups, called methylation allows thousands of chemical reactions to occur in the body. Methyl groups assist the body in making energy, making hormones and breaking them down, as well as assisting with neurotransmitter formation and degradation. Methylation goes beyond MTHFR. Thus when you stimulate one process/reaction in the body it can set off a cascade for other reactions elsewhere in the body. If the enzymes are not working appropriately – either too slow or too fast, then harm can occur. This explains the complexity of symptoms seen when individuals are given folate or in some cases folic acid. If you speed up a process this can lead to some people having the inability to accommodate for the change in speed because other enzymes are also deficient or possibly mutated.
Liken methylation to a running car. If you are speeding when your gas light is on, it won’t be long until your car stops running. This is what can happen where the fuel for making energy or hormones can slow down in the world of methylation. This is similar to what we might call hypomethylation. However, you could also imagine another scenario to a car. If you put a bunch of cars on the highway, yet multiple exits are closed this leads to slowing traffic and eventually a traffic jam. This is similar to what some may call hypermethylation. Regardless of the speeding up or slowing down, the changing or altering of one process can have significant consequences on other genes and their functions. It is important to understand that in many cases we see that speeding up or hypermethylation has been associated with diseases such as cancer and heart disease- the very thing that MTHFR677 and MTHFR1298 mutations have been linked to.
The real issue about epigenetic expression is about finding the dynamic balance. Balance is often not found solely through supplementation, even if this is needed. Supplementation can be a useful approach if done with appropriate timing and dosage. It can temporarily help but it doesn’t fix the cause. This is why MTHFR can’t simply be supported in isolation. Remember, epigenetic expression is not just the about gene.
Often practitioners are providing therapy or giving a pill as though only the gene matters, which may explain why your patient may not be getting better and may even feel worse. We are more than our genes. We know that stress and trauma change our genetic expression. In fact, there are studies looking at chronic trauma in childhood being correlated to breast cancer staging. We also see that transgenerational traumas, like the Holocaust, can be passed down to grandchildren and impact the genetic expression of offspring. So stress does indeed matter when it comes to our genes. Therefore, our emotions and daily stress matter as well. What we feed ourselves matters and of course exercise is known to change the epigenetic expression as well. So before you or your patient gets looped into thinking that you have to give a pill or a supplement for an epigenetic mutation- just stop and pause. Stop the MTHFR madness! It’s overrated, confusing and in fact has been going on for hundreds of years. Don’t feel compelled to do anything until you understand the other epigenetic mutations and variations that matter in combination with MTHFR. If you are unsure of what they are, then it is not time to do methylation support. Also, understand your patient. Get curious about what makes them special and what makes them joyful. Joy and laughter increase immunity through way of our natural killer cells. The immune system is also a key part to epigenetics. Your curiosity will help you navigate their complex picture rather than just looking at their genes. Start with the basics including stress reduction, movement, breathing, exercise, hydration, appropriate diet, and getting support for past or present traumas. In many cases, if the basics are not solid, the patient will not heal. Never underestimate the impact of routine, sleep, self-nurturance, creativity and getting outside. Our genes respond to safety, routine and nature.
If you want more support and guidance into helping yourself or your patients on a deeper level with methylation related to epigenetic expression, check out our upcoming events. We offer tailored CE for these specific issues and concerns. The courses will also provide dedicated time for your specific cases to be shared where more feedback or guidance is available.
Both Drs. Hollon and Lundberg found a passion in epigenetic expression due to the complexity of cases and patients they have had the opportunity to work with over the years. Their interest in helping those with difficult illnesses and disease states has led them to a deeper level of understanding. Over time they have investigated the frameworks of how nature and nurture coalesce into present and potential future health. Years of research has assisted in their understanding of the interplay between nature and nurture, which has expanded their work where cases began to make more sense. Various patterns emerged that have promoted additional quality of life and alleviation of symptoms in some of their most difficult cases. Due to this, many individuals and patients have sought their support. In order to provide more access to this knowledge, Drs. Hollon and Lundberg currently serve as a resource to other practitioners in the region. Their goal is to assist other practitioners on their most difficult cases in epigenetics. They hope to share more insight not only with their local community but other practitioners and patients in the region through various courses they are offering. They also provide consulting services for individual practitioners.