Every week I hear from a patient, or someone on this blog, that they have been diagnosed with MTHFR mutations, and they are hopeful that FINALLY they have found “The Answer”.
Somehow they have struggled on for months or years with an array of puzzling or debilitating symptoms, and no one seemed to have any answers. But someone has diagnosed them with MTHFR mutations and they have been told that here is the golden key to resolving every symptom that they are going through. “Just treat the MTHFR and you’ll be fine.”
It seems so simple. It seems like hope.
The problem is, it’s usually false hope.
I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, but finding out that you have MTHFR and treating it, is very unlikely to help much, no matter what condition you have.
MTHFR Isn’t a One Stop Shop for Wellness
In fact, in my thousands of hours treating patients, I have never once seen a strong focus on MTHFR, by itself, result in significant health improvements.
In my own case, when I found out that I had MTHFR, I commenced some supplements designed to help. My own main health concern, chemical sensitivities, was very directly linked to poor methylation, which was being impaired by MTHFR. For this reason, taking methylfolate and B12 did help me to a degree.
It really helped when I had my head over the toilet trying to control the nausea from a chemical exposure. But it didn’t do a single thing to stop the chemical reactions in the first place. It didn’t help with any other of my health concerns. And it didn’t reduce chemical sensitivity, even after years of use. At best, it replaced anti-nausea drugs and anti-histamines. This it did, only because I happened to be one of the lucky few who tolerated those supplements very well, and I knew how to use them and when.
While I am grateful that they shortened many miserable bathroom trips, in other ways I wish that I had not focussed on MTHFR for so long. Because it didn’t really get to the root cause of why I developed chemical sensitivities in the first place.
Initial Improvement, Not Lasting Results
This is a common pattern. A few lucky people tolerate “treatment” for MTHFR well, and do find some initial improvement. This is particularly so when people are truly folate deficient from an inadequate diet. But generally, after a short time, it becomes obvious that treating the MTHFR mutation is not going to fix everything.
The reason: We don’t “treat” gene mutations. We treat people. And people are WAY more complex than one gene mutation.
So what about doing a comprehensive genetic panel, and treating based on that?
That can definitely be helpful, as I have mentioned in my previous blog post. There is much less chance of nasty side effects and much more chance of getting improvement if you have a more complete genetic picture.
But even then – we don’t treat genes, we treat people. And people aren’t the sum of their genes.
You Are More than your MTHFR Gene Mutation
So what are people? What goes together to make us, well, us?
Human beings are made up of cells which are, yes, made based on the instructions in our DNA. Our genes dictate a lot of what happens inside and outside our cells.
But genes can be turned on and off. Gene activity can be influenced by so many other things. These influences on our genes have far greater impact than what is written in the DNA itself.
So what are these factors that influence our genes and cell functions?
The big ones are:
Your gut bacteria
Your thoughts – yes, your thoughts, beliefs, spirituality, feelings and relationships!
Let’s look at these one by one.
If you are breathing in cigarette smoke, traffic fumes, aldehydes from new clothing or wearing personal care products that are, essentially, toxic, then guess what? Your methylation and other detoxification pathways are going to be overloaded with work. Here is where having MTHFR is a particular problem, as it can reduce your supply of the folate that is needed for methylation (i.e. deactivation and then excretion) of these toxins.
No amount of supplements for MTHFR, or anything else, can overcome a toxic environment. What you put on your skin and breathe in the air daily has an enormous impact on your health, and reducing toxic exposure is high on the to-do list to find better health.
So how do you do this:
Firstly, choose natural skincare, makeup, hair care and other products for your body. Ones that contain only ingredients that you can pronounce are usually the best bet. These days, mineral makeup and natural cleansers are just as good as the paraben, phthalate and formaldehyde-laced versions. (If you don’t know what those chemicals are, just make sure they’re not on the labels of what you’re buying.)
Remember that unless it is from an essential oil or other natural source, most “fragrance” that you find listed on a label has not been safety tested as it’s considered proprietary technology.
At a minimum, don’t use unnecessary extras. No one really needs perfume, ok?
Secondly, consider air quality. If you spray commercial cleaners on your surfaces and or have air fresheners around the home – stop. There are excellent natural cleaners available, and microfibre cloths can do amazing things. As for air fresheners…. How about you use some fresh air?
Air fresheners are, for the most part, a terrifyingly toxic mix of formaldehyde, “fragrances” of unknown quality, and are a whole host of scary for anyone who wants to be well. Even if that’s not you, think of your visitors who may be chemically sensitive. If it smells too good to be true, it probably is.
Instead, use indoor plants, open windows and doors to ventilate, run exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens and if it’s not too late, design your home to isolate ‘smelly areas’ from living areas. If you simply must use something to mask an odour, try an essential oil diluted in water in a spray bottle. Even apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle works well. Use as needed – those automatic air freshener dispensers are a gimmick that costs you money and health.
While we’re talking about automatic dispensers, can I have a quick rant about pest sprays?
Firstly, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that if something is deadly to small animals (even flies) it’s probably not great for you. Spraying pesticides with automatic timed dispensers “just in case”, even outside, ought to be part of the definition of insanity.
When you do actually have a pest problem, see what you can do to treat it naturally. Get flyscreens on your windows. Use a fly swat and food covers. Traps and baits are far safer than sprays, as they keep poisons contained. If you have a gecko, mouse or cockroach problem, get a cat from good hunting lines. (But worm it regularly, and please don’t replace one problem with another by spraying the cat with flea spray. Use an internal treatment or ask a holistic vet about a natural option.) Ok getting a cat may not be realistic for all, but mine is a cockroach swatting machine!
My point here is not to say you should never use a chemical spray of any kind, but just don’t resort to them unthinkingly.
Lastly with regard to air quality, think about where you live. Can you manage to live away from factories and main roads? Can you steer clear of properties next to heavily sprayed farms?
This speaks to water quality too. Families in rural areas drinking unfiltered tank water are at particular risk for drinking lots of farm chemicals from roof run off. Town water is sometimes not much better – so as the saying goes, buy a filter, or be a filter. I know which I choose.
Speaking of water, what about what you eat? Of course, this is incredibly important.
Diet could be the subject of a thousand blog posts so I’ll sum it up briefly here.
Firstly, just as we don’t want to breathe or absorb toxins through our skin, neither do we want to eat them. So buy organic wherever possible, or grow your own without pesticides and herbicides.
If you can’t afford organic foods, then look up the list of “dirty dozen” in your area, and either don’t buy these, or buy those items organic. It pays to know what is important. In Australia for instance, feedlots are not that common and most lamb and beef is free range and grass fed. In the USA however, feedlots, heavy doses of antibiotics and hormones are common. I would never buy non-organic meat in the USA, whereas in Australia I am quite comfortable with supermarket lamb and beef. With dairy, I choose organic wherever possible, as toxins do tend to concentrate in the milk.
With MTHFR mutations, you may process pesticides and other food chemicals less effectively, so eating organic is more important.
Secondly, eat regularly to avoid stressing your body. Three meals and 1-2 snacks per day is ideal. An overnight fast of 14-16 hours is also beneficial to your health.
Thirdly, and quite obviously, eat a balanced diet. A meal should consist of at least 3 natural food groups. The groups are proteins (meats, legumes, dairy and eggs), fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and fats and oils. So for instance, a fried egg with a steak is not a meal. Steak and eggs with a plate of rocket and some brown rice is. Neither is a plate of vegetables with olive oil a meal. But if you add some nuts, some lentils or some fruit, it’s an acceptable meal. Rotate the food groups so that you cover each group once or twice daily. Focus on plants more than animal products.
This ensures you get a range of nutrients- especially that critical MTHFR-related nutrient, folate. Add small quantities of meat for B12 and that is a big part of MTHFR “treatment” already addressed for some people.
Fourthly – don’t eat utter garbage. I mean it should be pretty obvious, right?
Processed foods, deep fried foods, foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce and food additives are not good for you.
When you shop, buy mostly foods that have only one ingredient, i.e. plain fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, dairy and meats. A little added salt, water and citric acid or vinegar in canned, frozen and dried products is also fine. Sometimes you can find bottled sauces and spice mixes that are only made from ‘real’ ingredients. But mostly, if it comes in a packet or bottle, it’s not supposed to be eaten very often.
Lastly, eat a wide variety of whole, minimally processed plant foods.
You have unique species of bacteria in your gut, some of which only eat one or two different foods. If you want your good gut bacteria to all thrive, then you need to feed as many different species as possible, by eating as many different bacteria-feeding foods as possible, and that means unprocessed plant foods.
Gut bacteria (your microbiome)
This leads me to factor number three: your gut bacteria (and skin and mouth and nose all the other areas as well!)
I’ll keep this short – but basically these guys, whether good or bad, really pack a punch in:
- Programming your immune system
- Influencing your mood and how your brain works
- Detoxifying, or making MORE toxic, various chemicals, hormones and food components that make their way into your gut
- Influencing your weight
- Protecting, or damaging, your liver, reproductive organs, skin, sinuses, cardiovascular system, and well, just about everywhere!
In short, if you are looking to be well, and you’re not testing your gut bacteria, or not helping them to thrive, then you’re barking up the wrong tree. MTHFR has minimal influence compared to how much your microbiome does.
If you haven’t delved into this area yet, then I highly recommend you start doing so with a good practitioner on your side.
Do you ever get any fresh sunlight on your skin? Or do you huddle indoors with only artificial light?
Do you get enough sleep? Or is sleep sacrificed to the idol of work?
Do you move enough? Or is there too much on TV to get off the couch?
Do you plan your morning so that you have enough time to move your bowels? Or is it such a rush that your toilet habits become irregular?
I could ask so many more questions, but I think you understand my meaning. There are ways we are designed to live, and there are many modern habits that conflict with that design. If you conflict seriously enough, or often enough, then ill health will hit, MTHFR or not.
Your thoughts, beliefs, relationships and feelings
This is perhaps the most intriguing part of all, and new evidence indicates that this could actually be the biggest influence on your health!
You read me right, how you think and what you believe can make you healthier, or it can make you sick.
What we now understand, is that stress is a huge driver in a whole host of disease processes. Stress has a huge impact on your gut bacteria, immune system, weight, insulin sensitivity, inflammation and mood.
Inflammation, immune and gut dysfunction themselves then have large cascading effects on every body system and cell, without exception.
What causes stress? Well, living outside of the natural laws for your body, as mentioned above, causes stress. Physical stress such as cold exposure, excess exercise, inadequate food and movement, amongst many other things, cause stress responses in the body and brain.
People were designed to be able to cope with these physical stressors in the short term, though if poor habits persist for longer, breakdown occurs.
What humans were not designed to cope with however is modern psychological stress. Sure, we can process the adrenaline released when we are suddenly faced with a tiger, but in the past, this adrenaline was used to good effect by running away from the tiger. That energy release balanced out the adrenaline and the body returned to normality fairly easily.
Modern psychological stresses are not the same. Very few people can physically run away from things that trigger stress or fear these days.
So what causes psychological stress in the modern world? Is it the situations you find yourself in, your relationships, your job, your finances?
Well, no, it’s not.
What causes stress is not what happens to you, it’s how you respond to what happens to you.
This is why one person can find their bank balance a little shaky, but not feel anxiety about that, yet another person has a panic attack over the same scenario. It’s why one member of a couple may fly off the handle about a child’s spilled milk, and the other just shrugs and cleans it up.
Whether an event causes stress will depend so much on what a person thinks about that event, about themselves, about the other people involved and about how the universe works. Of course no one can thrive in extreme situations such as excessive working hours or an abusive relationship, but when it comes to the common daily life type stress, how we think really determines whether it impacts our health, or whether it just glances off us.
This, my dear readers, is huge, and the science backs me up.
We have known for decades that anger and unforgiveness raise disease risk.
Fear, rejection, negative thoughts, thinking the worst about others, guilt, or thinking that God is angry with you, worrying about things – these all send stress signals to the brain, and from there, to the immune system and every other body part I mentioned earlier.
I mention God in particular because of the fascinating research I have read showing that belief in a kind God results in positive health outcomes, whereas belief that God wants to punish you does the opposite. A thought that is worth further exploration, don’t you think?
Some people try to overcome stress with meditation, yoga, exercise and the like. While exercise in particular can be a good way to reduce stress’ impact and burn off that adrenaline, none of these practices actually relieves the cause of stressful thoughts. Meditation, designed to simply quiet the thoughts, does not combat them at all, and I do not recommend this bandaid solution in my practice.
What we need, is a revolution in the way we think. To be prepared to do the hard work in our minds and recognise when we are believing lies about ourselves, others, God, and our situations. When we find those lies, we will see how they lead to stressful thoughts. Replace the lies with truths, and things start to turn around.
Of course none of this is easy. It can be quite emotionally excruciating, and it’s really hard to do on your own. Which is why it’s time for another revolution – in the way we think corporately as a race. In the way we think in healthcare.
For so long we have focussed on the mechanistic minutia of genes and single nutrients and chemicals and medicines.
Maybe it’s time that we look bigger. Look more foundational. Yes, help people to know how to eat well, to avoid toxins, to align their lifestyles with the body’s needs, and nurture their gut bacteria. Natural medicine is mostly very good at this.
But let’s take it one step further and start to look at our core beliefs. I have seen miraculous results when we do.
If you don’t know where to start to unravel your health problem, please, don’t start with MTHFR. Start with these things, and MTHFR will often take care of itself.
If you need help, then please comment below or reach out to me in some way. I am more than happy to be part of this new healthcare revolution.