"I'm sorry, all your labs are normal. There's nothing wrong with you."
I made a promise to myself long ago to never say these words. Labs can be normal and labs can be helpful. Just because a set of labs shows nothing does NOT mean there isn't anything going on, though. It just means you need to keep looking. Often we find the answers
Allow me to show you a new road for you to travel in the land of healthcare. It might just lead to Answer-ville. Just follow the signs for highway MTHFR.
MTHFR. Oh, yes... mother f... You know you want to. Go on, say it. Giggle. Get it all out. We all have at some point. Done? Ok, good- so what on earth IS it? In short, it's genetics.
MTHFR is a gene. It makes an enzyme. This enzyme helps convert things (let's just keep things simple for now, okay?). End result: key player in mood, energy, hormone balance, detoxification of heavy metals, inflammation, and so much more. (There is a ridiculously long list available here) You have two copies of this gene, one from mom and one from dad. This means you can end up with -/- (two normal copies), +/- (one normal, one abnormal copy), or +/+ (two abnormal copies). Just to make things complicated, there are also two separate clinically significant MTHFR mutations to look at. Each one comes with it's own set of concerns, but the gist of it is this... there is a little something called methylation. If you've never heard about it I highly recommend taking a second and jumping over to this article first. (MTHFR is dealing with "cycle B" in this description, or the folate cycle.)
If you have MTHFR issues this cycle can be decreased by up to 70%! This means you won't convert B12 and folate properly and you can actually end up with elevated levels of these vitamins, since your body isn't able to utilize them. It's like having a safe full of money without the key to the lock. Bummer.
So, what do you do if you have MTHFR issues? Well, you start from the beginning. You make sure you are eating well, your gut is functioning properly, your adrenals are supported, you are exercising, limiting alcohol, caffeine, and other fun things in life. You get enough sleep. You make sure your house isn't toxic, your job isn't toxic, your relationship isn't toxic. Yeah, I know- it sounds like a lot and it sounds like it has very little to do with genetics. However, if you start trying to build a house without a foundation, it's not going to go well. Once you feel like you are living a healthy lifestyle, supplements can be helpful. Sometimes using a couple supplements can be helpful right off the bat in order to get you feeling better enough to start making positive changes. It's often a lot of trial and error and fine-tuning. Once again, you need to look at everything. This is a big gene but it is only ONE gene in a large picture and genes are only one small part of optimal health. If you start pushing this cycle too quickly and you have other genes with issues downstream you can create a major traffic jam in your neurotransmitters, which help with mood. Not fun.
There are many programs that will spit out a list of (their brand) supplements you should take based on your genes but this is like saying everyone with brown hair needs to use the same shampoo. It wouldn't take into account if your hair is curly, straight, wavy, thin, thick, long, short, etc. Some people would do very well with shampoo X, some would tolerate it, and some would have a horrible experience. This is the same of cookie cutter treatments for MTHFR.
Treating MTHFR and other genetic variants can be an amazing tool in optimizing you health but just remember that it is only part of a larger picture. It's a combination of nature and nurture- several people can have the same combination of genetic variants but have completely different pictures of health. A bunch of people with the exact same diagnosis can have completely different genetic pictures. Just remember, you are an individual and your healthcare plan should be as unique as you.
Hi, I'm Dr Sarah Strong, ND. I live in Hilo, HI with my wonderful husband and my two beautiful daughters. I have 2 copies of the A1298C variant of MTHFR and my oldest daughter has one of each (A1298C and C677T). I use genetic information as part of my treatments in many of my patients and I have seen first hand the power that this form of medicine has. To learn more about this field, as well as other healthy stuff I love, feel free to join my newsletter by clicking here.