Perhaps you’ve heard about one of the latest health buzzes when it comes to mental health – a cheeky enzyme known as MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase).
If you have a mutation in this gene then it can cause your methylation processes to work too much, too little, or not enough at all. Methylation is essentially a process that occurs where DNA gets tagged with a ‘methyl group’ which lets the rest of the body know not to read that particular bit of DNA. It’s also involved in the production of neurotransmitters, detoxification of chemicals, nerve health and processing of certain hormones and nutrients, to name just a few.
When the MTHFR genes work properly, you have adequate enzyme activity and that means you can more efficiently make proteins, use antioxidants, metabolize hormones, enjoy more stable brain chemistry, better eliminate toxins and heavy metals, and manage inflammation. So if you’ve got a problem with this gene, it really can be a bugger.
How does it affect your mood?
Many people with the MTHFR gene experience mood imbalances. This gene affects your mood in a few ways.
Reduced MTHFR enzyme means that you cannot make and recycle a very important antioxidant, glutathione effectively. Glutathione is responsible for a vast array of activities in the body and low levels have been associated with conditions such as depression, inflammation, bipolar, chronic fatigue syndrome and autism.
If your body cannot methylate the chemical homocysteine (you can find out if this is too high via a blood test) that results in decreased production of SAMe. This leads to decreased production of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters all responsible for mood balance.
If there is a reduced ability to detoxify chemicals and heavy metals (which is a factor for those with the MTHFR gene) this can also affect your mood. Digestive and liver health can have an indirect affect on your mental health, for several reasons such as the health of your gut flora, increased inflammation and an impact on your neurotransmitters. Digestive health problems have been linked to mental health problems in several studies. Click here to read more.
A lot of people with MTHFR gene also have a condition called Pyroluria (also known as Pyrolle disorder, Mauve factor, Kryptopyrrole, Kryptopyrroluria. People with this condition produce excess amounts of a substance called Pyrolles which bind to certain nutrients such as Vitamin B6, Biotin Zinc and GLA (an essential fatty acid). There are several conditions associated with this disorder but namely it is involved in several mental health conditions such as Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Manic depression and ADD/ADHD. This condition is also strongly linked to the state of the digestive system.
MTHFR and Folate
One of the main issues we have come to understand with MTHFR is that people with this gene cannot process folic acid into folate effectively and so cannot handle synthetic forms of the nutrient. This can become a bit of an issue because synthetic folic acid is in pretty much every multi-vitamin, and a lot of foods are fortified with it. If you are consuming synthetic folic acid and you can’t process it, it clogs up a lot of the pathways that require folate and as a result a lot of health complications arise. You can also be prone to problems relating to deficiencies of folate, such as miscarriage and neural tube defects.
People with MTHFR require a special activated form of this nutrient, the type found naturally in some foods. How much depends on the level of the gene mutations present (there’s a lot of variety that you can have) and your diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on it as well – it’s completely possible to have this gene and be symptom free and healthy if your diet and lifestyle is fine, and the gene hasn’t been ‘switched on’ (usually by stressful events). In Australia the closest to natural folate that we have available is folinic acid (calcium folinate) supplements, however this may still be difficult to metabolise for those who have very poor methylation.
If you suspect that you have this gene, then you can easily get yourself tested via labs such as Healthscope, Nutripath or 23 and Me. You may like to get this organized with a health practitioner who is knowledgeable in the realm of MTHFR, so they can guide you with treatment if needed.
Learn more: MTHFR_Related_Health_Problems