What exactly is an MTHFR snp, and why on earth is everyone talking about it? I feel compelled to write a post on this because, quite frankly, I’m frustrated with the information that’s out there right now on this topic.
MTHFR is short for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, and it is a single nucleotide polymorphism, also known as an snp (pronounced “snip”) but sometimes called a “mutation.” This last term is far more scary and far less accurate than the one I’ll use, SNP.
An MTHFR snp can cause problems with methylation and enzyme production, and it’s estimated that 20-50% of the general population carries some variation of it, with some variations being more problematic and severe than others. Researchers have found that the prevalence of diseases such as ADHD, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disorders, and autism are higher in those with a MTHFR snp. Clearly, this is something to pay attention to, but my frustration lies in the oversimplification I'm seeing in the general media, not only of the MTHFR snp, but genetics in general. Every time I hear someone say, “Oh, you have MTHFR? Take a methylated B vitamin instead of folic acid!” I want to SCREAM, “nooooo!”. I mean, yes, you should take a methylated form, not a folic acid form (and to be honest, no one, even those without this particular snp, should take folic acid because it’s synthetic crap, and it’s just not that usable for our bodies) BUT and here’s the big giant problem I have:
It is SO much more complicated than taking one supplement for one snp.
Did you know the 23andme report generates info on thousands of SNPs? And even that is just a snapshot of what’s going on in our bodies. And did you also know that our bodies have feedback loops where various genes affect other genes? It’s not just one little gene floating around on an island doing its own thing. There are lots of genes, and they regularly interact with each other. And believe me, you better know what your downstream genes are doing before you up-regulate your upstream genes in that feedback loop, people. You can’t just go around willy-nilly regulating stuff and not knowing what will happen. It’s like when a little kid gets in an elevator and sees buttons and presses every darn one. If he presses the one for your floor, you’re like ok, that’s cool… but when he hits the alarm button and all hell breaks loose, you’re like, dude, why would you do that? Do you know why he did that? HE HAD NO IDEA WHAT HE WAS DOING.
And that’s what happens when you randomly treat one snp and ignore the others (like many do with an MTHFR snp). It’s like pressing elevator buttons when you’re not quite sure what they do.
On top of the fact that there are loads of interrelated genes, there’s the very complex concept of epigenetics. This concept basically means that while genes load the gun, the environment pulls the trigger. You can have potentially problematic polymorphisms but NO ACTUAL PROBLEMS if the environment your genes are in doesn’t pull that trigger. One example of what might pull a trigger is toxin overloads from acute toxic mold exposure or aluminum and lead in makeup, PBAs, and PCBs in plastics, flame retardants in couches, pesticides sprayed on foods, additives, and adjuvants in vaccines, and more. Another big trigger puller is nutrition; if your Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio is out of balance, you are more likely to develop a host of diseases with a genetic basis, or if you’re vegan, you may be severely malnourished in the areas of B12, zinc, iron, and copper, which again pulls on that trigger. Trust me when I say this is a teeny tiny fraction of the ways the trigger can be pulled.
The good news portion of this doomsday list of epigenetic triggers is that by optimizing your diet, lifestyle, and environment, you can keep those triggers from being pulled over and over again and improve the quality of your life.
I’m no genetic expert over here or anything (Ben Lynch is, though, you should totally go see what he has to say for more info on this important topic!), but I know enough to have an informed and empowered discussion with my Doctor so we can formulate a plan together on how we’re going to get a handle on some of my cruddy genetics. Yes, it’s true; yours truly was blessed with terrible genes AND terrible environmental circumstances as a child to trigger said terrible genes.
I have to work HARD at being healthy and overcoming the hand I was dealt. What I used to look at as a “no fair!” scenario I now see as enlightening and empowering. Through investigating my own health, I have learned so much about how to help myself and how to help others. I highly recommend you do the same. You can do what I did and go back to school and study your brains out, or you can check out Ben Lynch and other experts and mildly acquaint yourself with these types of things, or you can hire a health coach like myself to help guide you through the minefield also known as health and wellness. Whatever you decide to do, as long as it's not "nothing," you're doing something great for yourself. Taking charge of your health is ALWAYS a good thing. I know the concept of knowing your genetics can seem scary, but under the right guidance, it doesn’t have to be, and let's be real, no one ever said, "Wow, I really wish I didn't take the time to educate myself on my own body, my own genetics, my own health. Learning how to live my best life was such a waste of time!". I meannnnn, no one would ever say that, right?! So get going, friend!
Whether you've found that you have an MTHFR snp, or are investigating another area of your health, make sure you’re informed on what those elevator buttons do before you start pushing them.
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