The MTHFR Folate Myth—What your doctor isn’t telling you

The effects (or perceived effects) of MTHFR genetic mutation are something we address in practice every day.

I say “perceived effects” because in truth, it is one of THE most hyped up, over-complicated, and misunderstood conditions out there.

Discovered during completion of the Human Genome Project, this genetic mutation is believed to be associated with a variety of health conditions such as infertility, ADD/ADHD, Autism, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disorders, thyroid ailments, and metabolic issues (to name a few).

However, though MTHFR can and does contribute to a variety of mild, moderate, and downright serious health issues…its causes, effects, and solutions are grossly misunderstood and often misrepresented by healthcare professionals.

The truth is, MTHFR genetic variations are nothing new.

And though we don’t know exactly when the first case occurred, variations in this gene have been around for literally thousands of years, throughout the world. Yet, our MTHFR-variation ancestors continued to procreate and lead healthy lives without intervention.

So, why is it suddenly causing so many problems in twenty-first century America?

There are a few little-known answers to that question which I will address in our post today.

If you have an MTHFR variation, wonder if you have one, or question if it truly impacts your health on a grand-scale, read on for some myth-busting information (trust me, you’ll be surprised).

Why MTHFR Was a Non-Issue for Previous Generations

As mentioned above, having an MTHFR variation is nothing new, as the mutation has been around for many centuries with little impact.

What makes it problematic today, is the compounding effects of poor nutrition, specifically a lack of folate from our reduced consumption of vegetables (folate comes from the word “foliage”) passed down through the last six or so decades.

When I talk about poor nutrition, I am referring to the mid-twentieth century shift away from home-grown, unprocessed, nutrient-dense traditional foods to the “convenience era” of processed foods, industrialized agriculture, and food engineering run amuck.

While it may seem like we have better access to higher quality food than ever, the truth is most modern foods are devoid of the essential nutrients like iron, B12, folate, and essential minerals, which our great great grandparents would have consumed in abundance…even if they ate less food overall.

In the Victorian era, for example, people consumed 10 times more nutrients than we do today1.

This high level of nutrition, coupled with a less toxic environment, provided Victorians with about the same life expectancy we enjoy today, plus natural nutrient-protection from the effects of nutrigenomic variations and other modern chronic diseases.

What exactly did they eat that was so nutritious?

Since this was a time before supplements or packaged “superfoods”, the Victorians relied on a variety of fresh, real food to nourish them. Foods such as:

  • A variety of prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods which supported gut health
  • Large quantities of seasonal fruits and vegetables
  • Pasture-raised, raw dairy products
  • Wild and pasture-raised meats
  • Wild-caught fatty fish, like salmon and mackerel
  • Regular consumption of organ meats

The organ meats are of particular benefit for MTHFR anomalies, as liver, for example, contains a wealth of MTHFR-protective nutrients such as B12, folate, B6, and other key minerals that prevent biochemical pathways from being damaged.

And since they received all their nutrition from real food, they had no problems with the potential effects of high-dose supplementation…

…And let’s dive into that topic right now starting with folate supplementation.

The MTHFR Folate Myth: If you have a variation of MTHFR, methylated folate is all you need

If you are diagnosed with a MTHFR mutation, you will typically be told folate is impactful for this genetic issue. Therefore, so long as you take a high-dose methylated folate supplement for life you’re good-to-go.

Wrong and wrong.

First off, though folate is of primary concern, it’s not the only nutrient involved here.

B12, B6, and many other minerals are affected by MTHFR. Therefore, they must be ingested together and in a balanced way to achieve a desirable and lasting benefit. Not to mention that there are seven rate-limiting steps to result in folate — seven steps that prevent you from taking too much and causing yourself harm. Taking methylfolate bypasses these safe-guarding steps and dumps it all in at the end. That might not be a big deal with you’re taking a small amount, but I’ve seen crazy high amounts sold and prescribed, and those can flat-out cause you harm. Harm like cancers and other genetic changes.

Again, that’s why eating nutrient-dense organ meats like liver is so beneficial. They contain all those B-vitamins and minerals in a highly absorbable form, in the right ratios and amounts.

Muscle meats (like steak, chicken breast and even the fish you eat) also contain important nutrients, but are nowhere near as nutritious as good old fashioned liver.

Secondly, high-dose supplementation is not a good idea long-term…especially with a single nutrient like folate.

Which brings me to my next point:

MTHFR Carriers Need Better Nutrition…Not High-Dose Supplementation for Life

Not to beat a dead horse, but as any nutritionist or functional medicine doctor worth their salt will tell you: supplements cannot (and should not) replace real foods. That’s why they are called “supplements”!

For those with an MTHFR variation, a focus on foods rich in B-vitamins, natural folate or folic acid, probiotic cultures (B-vitamins rely on healthy gut flora for assimilation) and minerals from liver, dark leafy greens and other vegetables, cultured foods, fruits, etc.

Studies have proven high-dose supplementation, especially of synthetically-derived vitamins (like folate) increases your risk of certain cancers2,3,.

When it comes to supplementation, small doses from whole-foods-based supplements paired by high-quality, nutrient-dense foods are your best and safest course of action. Even if you have an MTHFR issue.

Should You Get Tested for MTHFR? Probably not…

Though many integrative practitioners and medical doctors would recommend everyone be tested for MTHFR, I would advise a radically different (and more simple) solution:

JUST EAT BETTER.

If it worked for our Victorian ancestors, and those before them, why can’t it work for us now?

It can and it does.

We see it in practice every day and our clients are DELIGHTED to be liberated from a lifelong dependence on high-dose methylated vitamins.

Though conditions like MTHFR can seem mysterious, complicated, and confusing, like so many other “modern” conditions, the solution is insanely simple: just eat better.

For more detailed information on MTHFR and your health, check out my previous article: MTHFR Mistakes: Assumptions, Dangers and What’s True About MTHFR and visit our Merritt Wellness Pinterest page for a wealth of delicious recipes and food-as-medicine tips.

In health,

-Dr. Marlene

References:

  1. Clayton, Paul and Rowbatham, Judith. “How the Mid-Victorian’s Lived, Ate, and Died”. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2009, 6, 1235-1253; doi:10.3390/ijerph6031235.
  2. Ulrich, Cornelia M., and John D. Potter. “Folate supplementation: too much of a good thing?.” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 15.2 (2006): 189-193.
  3. Ulrich, Cornelia M., and John D. Potter. “Folate and cancer—timing is everything.” JAMA 297.21 (2007): 2408-2409.