MTHFR is an essential component of human health, one that you may not have heard of, but you likely will be hearing more about it in the future.
MTHFR is an acronym for a gene – methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. This gene produces an enzyme essential for human health – methylenetetrahydrofolate (MTHF). It has been estimated that somewhere between 30-85% of humans carry a mutation, or SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) in this gene. This can lead to minimal changes in the function of this gene, or significant changes that can drastically impact health. Our current best guess is that between 6-14% of caucasians, 2% of African descent, and up to 21% of Hispanics have a severe mutation.
MTHFR in Mental Health
One of the essential functions of MTHFR is to produce neurotransmitters. Individuals with MTHFR mutations may be more at risk of developing one of the many mental health conditions associated with MTHFR:
- bipolar disorder
- attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
The neurotransmitters produced during the MTHFR cycle, in particular serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and melatonin, have important mood stabilizing effects. The decreased function of the MTHFR cycle in people with a MTHFR mutation can lead to lower levels of these neurotransmitters, increasing the risk of developing a mental health condition.
MTHFR and Anti-Depressants
In addition to increasing the odds of developing a mental health condition, an MTHFR defect can also alter the ability of a person to respond to antidepressant medications. A higher rate of non-responsiveness and/or adverse effects has been found in people with an MTHFR mutation.
If you suspect you may have an MTHFR defect the only way to know for sure is to do a genetic test that will identify if you have a mutation in this important gene at one of two locations – known as C667T or A1298C. If you have a single mutation in one location (inherited from one parent) you have a “heterozygous” mutation – if you have two mutations in one location (inherited from both parents) then you have a “homozygous” mutation, which is generally more severe. If you have two mutations in both locations then you have a “compound homozygous” mutation, the most severe.
What to do about MTHFR
The most important thing to do about MTHFR is to support the normal function of this enzyme pathway with essential nutrients. This pathway (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) produces folate as one of it’s primary actions. Folate, vitamin B9, can be taken as a supplement and reduce the negative effects seen with MTHFR mutations. Avoiding things that can interfere with folate is also important – digestive diseases, poor diet, alcohol consumption and some medications (include the birth control pill). Additionally, avoiding synthetic folic acid, found mostly in processed foods (like bread, crackers and cereals), is also important as the folic acid can slow down the MTHFR cycle further.
In addition to taking a folate supplement, focusing on a healthy diet is essential for managing MTHFR. Folate comes from foliage – so eating your leafy greens, broccoli and beans can provide folate in your daily diet.
Treating MTHFR can be complex. Working with a qualified practitioner, well-versed in MTHFR is essential to improve your health and support your mind and body.
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.