Every time I see the acronym MTHFR, I think it stands for a dirty word! (I’ll let you use your imagination…) And it might as well, because science is discovering just what a nasty mother a malfunctioning MTHFR gene can be!
This is a very complex subject, which I am going to do my best to break down into layman’s terms, but if you have any questions, I urge you to bring them to our Facebook group and also to your doctor — or find a doctor who is trained in methylation and nutrigenomics (I’ve got some resources below).
What is MTHFR?
MTHFR refers to both a gene and the enzyme it produces. If the gene is damaged or mutated (called polymorphism) — which the Human Genome Project discovered is a fairly common problem — it produces MTHFR enzyme that is slightly off. The shape of enzymes is important for them to work properly, and so even a small change can be a big problem; imagine a key that is almost, but not quite right to fit into a lock. It might turn a little, but it won’t unlock the door.
The MTHFR enzyme is responsible for a chemical breakdown pathway in the body called methylation. It’s the first step in a chemical process that results in the production of an essential amino acid called methionine and the anti-inflammatory chemical SAM-e. In short, a well functioning methylation pathway means that your body is better able to fight inflammation and eliminate toxins, including heavy metals.
How is MTHFR related to your thyroid?
The MTHFR enzyme and your thyroid have a kind of symbiotic relationship. If you have hypothyroidism, you will have sluggish MTHFR enzyme production, because having low T4 hormone reduces the amount of active B12 (FAD) available for your body, and that active B12 is vital to produce the MTHFR enzyme.
So, someone who is hypothyroid can have low MTHFR with or without a mutation, or polymorphism, of the MTHFR gene.
On the other end of the spectrum, the MTHFR enzyme produces methylfolate, which is needed to convert tyrosine into active thyroid hormone. So, someone who does have a serious polymorphism of the MTHFR gene is also more likely to have symptoms of thyroid problems, because the body is not able to convert enough active thyroid hormone — even if the thyroid is working flat out to produce it.
What problems are associated with MTHFR polymorphisms?
Scientists are just beginning to understand the incredible laundry list of problems and disorders that are associated with changes (polymorphisms) to the MTHFR gene — they range from seasonal allergies and depression all the way to autism and bipolar disorder to stroke, cancer, and premature death. Pretty scary stuff.
As I mentioned, science is just beginning to tease out how and why the gene is connected to these disorders, but the best understanding seems to be that without proper methylation pathways, the body has trouble fighting inflammation and clearing toxins, which can contribute to all of these diseases and disorders.
Another problem that is closely linked to MTHFR polymorphisms is histamine intolerance. You’ve probably heard of antihistamines: drugs that fight allergies. But histamines do more than just make you sneeze in the spring.
Your body requires histamines to function properly. Histamines are involved with getting blood, ie: nutrients and oxygen, delivered to all parts of your body, your concentration, your digestion, and more.
Histamine intolerance happens when your system is overloaded with too much histamine, and can be caused by a variety of factors — but an MTHFR polymorphism means that you are genetically predisposed to histamine intolerance.
How do I know if I have an MTHFR problem?
There are simple genetic tests that can determine if you have an MTHFR mutation, and which polymorphism it is (there are a number of variations).
For my money, if you have thyroid problems, it’s worth getting yourself tested for an MTHFR polymorphism; to me, it’s just more knowledge, and the more knowledge I have, the better I can determine my path to healing.
Your doctor can order an MTHFR genetic test, or you can order one yourself from an independent testing company; this article lists the best tests and testing companies for MTHFR polymorphisms.
What do I do if I find out I do have an MTHFR polymorphism?
There’s no cure for a genetic mutation, but there are ways to help combat the symptoms and support your body.
Perhaps the most important step is finding a doctor who is knowledgeable about MTHFR and methylation, and trained in either functional medicine or biochemical nutrigenomics (or both!). Both disciplines look at the whole person — from your medical tests and history to your diet, environment and lifestyle — and treat the body as a whole system, rather than a series of symptoms and disconnected parts. The MTHFR.net website has a list of trained doctors and could be a good place to start.
Of course, there are steps you can take to support your body and your methylation pathways on your own:
- Limit your exposure to chlorine, bromine (bromide), and fluoride. Drink filtered water, use non-fluoride toothpaste and avoid sodas and other products that contain brominated vegetable oil.
- Limit your exposure to heavy metals. This is good advice for anyone, especially anyone with a thyroid condition, but it’s doubly important if you also have an MTHFR mutation.
- Support your body’s detox pathways. You can do this with therapeutic massage, dry saunas, dry brushing, epsom salts baths, and colon hydrotherapy.
- Avoid gluten completely. Gluten can have a very negative effect not just on your thyroid but on your body’s inflammation as well, which is harder to combat and heal if you have an MTHFR polymorphism.
- Take steps to limit your stress and support your mental health. The chemical SAM-e that is the product of the functioning methylation pathway is strongly linked to fighting depression and good mental health. SAM-e supplements are available if your practitioner recommends them.
- If you suspect you have histamine intolerance, try a low histamine diet and avoid fermented foods, aged foods (like wine, cheese, dry sausages), and leftovers.
The good news is that all of these steps will also help improve your thyroid and can help you start feeling better today.
For more nutrition, health, and lifestyle information like this, I provide a ton of resources on healing your thyroid naturally, including:
- Our totally free Thyroid Healing Type Assessment, Report and Coaching Sessions
- Right here on my blog, where I talk about what’s worked best for me and my clients, as well as the latest research and resources I come across. You can subscribe to get new blog posts delivered right to your email by signing up on the righthand side of the page.
- My book, Healing Hashimoto’s Naturally — part memoir, part instruction manual for how I personally healed my Hashimoto’s disease.
- My exclusive free 6 Thyroid Myths That Can Keep You From Healing workshop — with info on the comprehensive Thyroid Fix in 6 program, which walks you through, step-by-step, the exact actions you need to take to heal your thyroid and get your life back! We’ve seen hundreds of participants in the Thyroid Fix in 6 avoid, decrease, or even eliminate the need need for thyroid medications.
- The incredible Your Best Thyroid Life Video Bundle, in which I personally invited 27 of the world’s top health experts to share their best tips for living with and healing thyroid disease.
Remember, no matter what diagnosis or symptoms you’re facing, you always have a choice. Keep your chin up and take small daily action and you can heal and have a normal life again!
Jen Wittman is a Certified Holistic Health Expert, Chef, Author & Vitality Coach, who teaches women how to reverse thyroid and autoimmune conditions naturally. She’s helped hundreds of women decrease (or even eliminate) their thyroid medications and has helped others stay off thyroid medication entirely.
Through her free Thyroid Healing Type Assessment, Jen teaches easy and simple steps to thyroid healing that can fit into your busy day. She also provides print outs to bring to your next doctor’s appointment so you can get the support and respect you deserve.