By Emily Hecker DC, MBA, CNC
You just found out that you have a genetic defect called MTHFR but your doctor really isn’t spending the time to discuss it with you or more likely, your doc just doesn't know a whole lot about it. Now What?
Well congrats, you are lucky enough to be among the 40+% of Americans to have a potential roadblock on your metabolic highway…and are still lost.
What is MTHFR?
MTHFR is a very important gene (and enzyme) in the body that everyone has, necessary for an important metabolic process called methylation. When one has a gene variation, also known as a mutation in that gene, it can impact how well your body metabolizes folate and folic acid. Both are forms of vitamin B9, required for numerous critical body functions. A fault in this metabolic cycle is linked to many serious health problems such as:
Colon Cancer Risk
High blood pressure
When your test came back positive, along with a lot of other words that you just don’t understand, like homozygous, heterozygosity, polymorphism, homocysteine metabolism, Methyltetrahydrofolate reductase and genetic variants. It sounds scary!...yet, most doctors really don’t know how to explain it. I hear healthcare practitioners advising their patients:
Just take folate
You need L-5MTHF
15mg of Deplin
Eat leafy greens
Take an aspirin every day
You may heed this advice and feel great, feel horrible or feel nothing. How you do know what you are doing is helping your MTHFR polymorphism? You want answers!!!! Hopefully a quick and easy, one-size-fits-all protocol. Not. Gonna. Happen. (at least not from the practitioners trained by Dr. Ben Lynch) We all have certain genetic variations or “defects” that can influence how we metabolize and use certain nutrients. More investigation is needed! You have a potential roadblock on your highway that an experienced doctor trained in functional medicine and methylation can help you bypass.
My Secret, revealed.
When patients make an appointment to discuss their MTHFR status with me, I know they are excited to talk genes and folate, they are ready to “nerd out” on this topic. However, that is not the first place I start. Prioritization requires us to discuss epigenetics before we address how your genes are expressing themselves.
Did you catch it? The key word? Epigenetics! Epigenetics. This is the meat and potatoes of MTHFR support. Epigenetics is the study, in the field of genetics, of cellular and physiological trait variations that are caused by external or environmental factors that switch genes on and off and affect how cells read genes instead of being caused by changes in the DNA sequence.
“Epigenetics helps us understand that the genome is more like a dynamic, living being--growing, learning, and adapting constantly. You may have heard that the most disease is due to random mutations, or “bad genes”. But epigenetics tells us otherwise. If you need glasses or get cancer or age faster than you should, you very well may have perfectly normal genes. What’s gone wrong is how they function, what scientists call genetic expression,” so eloquently stated by Dr. Catherine Shanahan in her book Deep Nutrition. It’s all about HOW your genes function. There are things than can turn genes on and off and damage them making them not function properly. These damaging things are caused from external or environmental factors.
Epigenetic researchers study how our genes react to behavior and they are discovering that everything we do; eat, think and breathe can trickle down to affect the gene’s performance. This means that epigenetics consists of things that YOU, for the most part, can have control over!
How you can control your future.
For instance, you can control how you handle your stress, you can control your diet and how much sugar and carbohydrates you consume, you can control the drugs you take and address any infections or pathogens with a skilled provider. You have the ability to change and control these things.
So when I approach patients who want to attack their genetic misfortune, we have to back up and look at epigenetics first. No matter what I do as a practitioner, I cannot change genes. That is a result from what your mom, dad and God gave to you. We can not change genes, but we CAN control things that may speed up or slow down a gene’s function.
We address epigenetics, and help reduce inflammation that may be affecting and damaging the protective layers surrounding DNA. When DNA’s protective layer is damaged, it allows for replication of damaged cells to occur. This is called aging, a tumor, or cancer. We can’t cure cancer, or set you back a few years in age, but we can look at biochemical pathways and optimize your current health and guide you to a healthier version of you. I love to explore individual MTHFR mutations and what implications it may have for you using health and diet. Remember, it’s not about the defect, it’s about removing the things we have control over and adding the key nutrients in to allow for your genes to function better.
Dr. Emily is a board-certified Chiropractic Physician. Fueled by her passion for functional medicine, she has obtained hundreds of hours in postgraduate education to aid her in finding the root cause of her patient’s symptoms. Dr. Emily is sought-out nationwide for her ability to offer nutrigenomic support, specifically to those who have genetic polymorphisms for MTHFR at her clinic, Enlighten in Ballwin MO.