Concerns about this gene have been popping up a bit over the last few weeks so thought I would share with you what this is all about and how acupuncture can help.
MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (mouthful I know!). Its name isn’t as important as its function though. It is an enzyme which helps B9 (folate) turn into its most active form for the body to use, named 5-MTHF.
Over the last few years, there’s been considerable interest in the mutation to the MTHFR gene. There are two main variations which can be found with a blood test.
Women who have been found to have either of these gene mutations, may have problems turning folate into 5-MTHF, halting the absorption of folate in the body.
Folate is crucial for brain function, the production of DNA and RNA, the body’s genetic material, and important for when cells grow rapidly like in infancy, adolescence and pregnancy. Folate also helps make red blood cells and helps with iron absorption.
Side note – folate is the natural form of folic acid. Folic acid is the synthetic form used in supplements and fortified foods. Folate exists in many nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables.
The rabbit hole of information available about these gene mutations online is overwhelming. So in the interest of reducing anxiety around this topic, I want to point out a few things.
- Gene mutations are common. They can exist without expression, depending on your lifestyle
- Many people have the MTHFR gene variant and suffer no problems in their health, fertility or pregnancy
- Some women with the gene mutation have no problem processing folate
But, to put this back into perspective of ‘whole’ health, the chemical pathway of turning folate into 5-MTHF is part of a much bigger and more complex process in the body called methylation.
“Methylation is, essentially, the on/off switches of the body – where countless molecules and processes can be activated, or deactivated, to perform a function, or to allow a reaction to occur.” (https://www.mthfrsupport.com.au/what-is-methylation/)
Many body functions rely on a smooth methylation process and problems to this may result in chronic diseases like migraines, problems with blood clots, PCOS, chronic fatigue, frequent headaches, depression, infertility and frequent miscarriages.
However, there are some natural things you can do to improve your methylation:
- Eat a healthy and varied diet – include lots of green, leafy vegetables as they have high amounts of natural folate to fuel your methylation
- Switch your folic acid supplement to a brand that has just 5-MTHF – bypassing the steps where the body has trouble converting (Orthoplex, Thorne and Eagle all have 5-MTHF in their prenatals).
- Avoid high dosing with folic acid
- Supplements – taking magnesium and zinc can help support your methylation
- Gut health – probiotics and healthy gut bacteria are important for more efficient methylation
- Avoid certain medications (with the advice of your doctor) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which are shown to lower levels of B9
- Reduce stress – stress, chemical toxins, smoking and increased alcohol consumption can all negative affect your methylation process
- Get acupuncture (of course) – some small research trials have shown that acupuncture may benefit the methylation process, improving gene expression. I mean if lowering stress does, than acupuncture has to right?
If you would like to investigate your MTHFR status, I would talk to your GP about getting the gene tested and then find an experienced naturopath or integrative doctor to advise you on the best course of action, if any. And combine their advice with your regular acupuncture treatments and healthy lifestyle.
For women going through IVF or trying to fall pregnant, who have experienced unexplained infertility, recurrent implantation failure or recurrent miscarriages, I would advise getting this tested and talking to your specialist and other health care providers about an individualised action plan.