You know that feeling? That feeling when you read something on Facebook or Instagram, and whether you literally slap yourself in the forehead or not... you have the over whelming feeling of ... face palm. Someone has not only missed the theoretical boat, but you're not sure they even know what a boat looks like. I have that feeling repeatedly about one topic in particular: MTHFR. Say what? I know it looks like we let a toddler play with our keyboard, but "MTHFR" is a gene that has a huge effect on our health. This is gene can be mutated and it's especially important for anyone who has, or plans on having kids (males AND females). In this post I'll explain WTF this MTHFR mutation actually is, how it affects you, and why it's important to switch from folic acid to methyl folate.
One of the more recent *face palm* moments came when I read an article associating high levels of folic acid to the development of autism. Not only are there hundreds of factors that can contribute to autism, but a huge factor was overlooked - how many of those moms had MTHFR and were told by a doctor to take folic acid instead of methyl folate?
Why's that a big deal? Here's what the MTHFR gene does, and why it could change the way you think about that headline.
MTHFR is short for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, and it's totally ok if you gave up half way through reading that word. A healthy MTHFR gene is a good thing. It means we can do something called methylation. Methylation is a complex chemical reaction, but it basically means your body is sticking tags on stuff. This ability to "tag" things affects every process in your body in one way or another. These tags are put on a very important vitamin called B9. When the MTHFR gene is mutated (which it IS in about 50% of the population.. that's right half of us are mutants) our body loses the ability to methylate or "tag" B9, which means we can't use it.
We use B9 for:
Now, there are actually 150 types of B9 but it can generally come in 2 major forms: Folate, and Folic Acid. They sound similar, but BOY OH BOY does your body treat them differently. Folate is found naturally in foods like dark leafy greens, while folic acid cannot be found in foods. The most important thing to know: our bodies can only use B9 if it's methylated folate. Aka, the folate (natural) form, and "tagged" or methylated.
1. The body can take any form of B9 (folate, folic acid, tagged or not tagged, pink or covered in rainbow glitter, etc.), put it through a little chemical reaction, and change it into the active form that our bodies can use = methyl folate. No problems, no issues. Our bodies have cool stuff like that built in because we humans toss a lot of weird stuff in our mouths all day (ahem... Pop Rocks? why, though?).
1. The body takes in methyl-folate ("tagged" and in natural form) and can use it immediately, because there's no need to put in through reaction and make it activated. It's already activated, useable, lovely, and ready to help!
2. The body takes in folic acid, and tries its little heart out to activate it (by sticking a tag on it - aka methylating). No such luck, because a mutated MTHFR gene means you're missing some of that "tagging" machinery. Since you can't "tag" or use the folic acid it sits in your cells, taking up valuable space like an unwanted squatter. It even blocks places that good forms of B9 can use. Picture a parking lot where you COULD have parked but some nut job (in this case, folic acid) parked over the line and is taking up 2 spots instead of 1. In the mean time, unless you're getting some other source of folate (usable B9), you're feeling:
50% of the world has at least 1 MTHFR mutation from their mama or papa. You can also have mutations from BOTH mom and pops, making this information even more important. It's even more common if you have Mexican heritage.
The only way to know for certain if you have a mutated MTHFR gene is to do some genetic testing. If you don't feel like opening that can of worms, the safest thing to do is assume (or pretend) you're in the 50% of the population that does have an MTHFR mutation. If you know (or you're pretending like you know) you're affected you should:
A mutated MTHFR gene could be explaining your fatigue, poor tolerance of alcohol, sluggish immune system, miscarriages, or the health of your children. 50% of the population has it, but you can specifically identify MTHFR with genetic testing. To play it safe, you should be switching anything with folic acid to methyl folate. They are BOTH forms of B9, but everyone will be better able to use methyl folate. This is especially important for women who have kids, want to have kids, or currently have a bun baking in the oven!
Do I think folic acid could be associated with the health of children, and possibly autism? Yes, but not because the parents are "TOO nutritious." It's very possible that patients in the previously mentioned study had poor tagging machinery and therefore couldn't use OR pass on B9 to their children. Even more, the folic acid may have been building up and crowding out any good methyl folate the parents were getting from their diet. The same is true if a breast feeding mom is taking folic acid. Her baby will only get folic acid and not usable methyl folate. Low methyl folate (good B9) can lead to reduced speaking skills, weak muscles, weak immune system, poor intestinal health, and altered nerve function.
If this hits home, and you've just GOT to know more - visit Dr. Ben Lynch (the MTHFR guru) and watch videos until your heart is content!