So last week I got the news that I have multiple MTHFR gene mutations. While this news wasn't a surprise (I had my suspicions), there is something daunting about knowing for certain that something is not right with your body. Don't get me wrong. I think preventative care and early detection are highly important. I'm thankful to now know conclusively that my body has this flaw. It's just that now I feel a heightened level of responsibility to do the good that I know I should do, if that makes sense. You see, for years I've been reading about other people who realized they had MTHFR mutation, other people who had problems with detoxification, other people who had compromised immune systems. When it was other people, it was easy to confidently say "if it was me, I'd 100% be doing x, y, z." However, now that I've had to seriously accept that there are some things that I'm going to have to do to help improve my chances of not experiencing dis-ease, it is not as simple.
Like Amy Myers (a functional medicine MD who I have been following for years), I am homozygous (two mutations) at gene C677T. As I mentioned last week, MTHFR is crucial for proper methylation, and without that my risk for autoimmunity and thyroid disease increases. One of the main trends for those with multiple mutations is heavy metal toxicity such as lead and mercury. This is one area of health that I have not dug into on my own because I strongly believe that attempting to chelate/remove heavy metals should only be done under the supervision of a functional medicine physician who can make sure it is done safely. It can be kind of confusing, but Dr. Myers gives a great illustration of what happens when the MTHFR gene has mutations. I'm going to share her illustration because it really helped me to understand:
"Let's say you eat a piece of tuna fish (which is high in mercury) and it contains ten parts mercury. If you have no mutations (wild type) at MTHFR, you will excrete all ten parts of mercury at 100%, assuming your detox pathways are working optimally. However, if you have one mutation at C677T then your ability to detoxify the mercury is decreased by 50% which means you can only detoxify five parts of mercury and you store five parts. If however, you have two mutations at MTHFR [like me], especially at C677T [like me], your ability to detoxify the mercury is decreased by a whopping 90%. This means you keep nine parts of mercury and clear only one part of mercury every time you eat a tuna fish sandwich. And this does not account for your daily exposure to mercury through water, air and other food sources, many of which you cannot control."
As someone who can, at times, slip into doom-and-gloom mindset, I have had to be really intentional about taking my thoughts captive and not letting fear or anxiety set in. Instead, I've been embracing the reality that although my genetic code can't be changed, I do have a tremendous amount of control regarding how my genes are expressed. My diet and lifestyle play a very significant role in how my genes will actually affect my health. I certainly do not have all the answers. In fact, at this point I haven't really even moved forward into a plan of action as I'm still processing and weighing my options. However, these are the things that I'm contemplating now that I know about my MTHFR mutations and that I carry one of the Celiac genes.
1. Gluten will never be a part of my diet again. I've been gluten free for 5 years and honestly there is nothing that tempts me to return to gluten. I'm fully satisfied eating a gluten free diet and am 100% sold on how much better I feel when abstaining from gluten. I actually prefer to be entirely grain free as I truly feel so much better avoiding grains. Dairy and refined sugar are a couple other foods that I really limit simply because I feel better doing so.
2. I will be having my homocysteine levels checked regularly as part of my well-care routine. It is the methylation process that converts homocysteine into methionine. So, for anyone who has one or more MTHFR mutations, the ability is reduced, leading to low conversation rates, which then leads to high levels of homocysteine in the blood. High levels can impact mental health and mood, and have also been linked to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, inability to detoxify, some forms of cancer and blood vessel damage. An optimum level is 6-9 umol/L.
3. A pre-methylated B vitamins supplement will be part of my daily routine for as long as I'm still kicking. I've been taking one on and off for a couple years (simply because I knew I felt better when I took it), but now I know it is something that I just have to take because no matter how well I do with getting B vitamins in through food, it will never be enough given my gene expression.
4. I will avoid folic acid (and synthetic B vitamins) because my body will not be able to convert the unmethylated form. Lucky for me, I already avoid fortified and processed foods and synthetic supplements. So this one should be a piece of cake.
5. Foods rich in B vitamins, especially high folate foods like asparagus, romaine, broccoli, avocado, spinach, kale and Swiss chard will be staples in my diet. I love all of these foods, so I'm not too worried about this one either.
6. Looking into air filtration is also on my to-do list as we are moving into a new house in December and I'm going to attempt to reduce my toxin burden as much as possible.
7. Using a water filter for our drinking water (we use Reverse Osmosis) will be something we continue indefinitely. I'm also looking into getting filters for the showers as chemicals are absorbed through the skin as well.
8. Another "To Do" on my list is scheduling an appointment with a biological dentist to see what I've got going on for mercury in my mouth. I have some fillings that I suspect are mercury, but I've never really had incentive to find out until now.
9. Exercise. You might not know this about me, but exercise is not really part of my vocabulary. I know it's ridiculous since my husband literally does "fitness" for a job, but I've always been more into eating hahaha. However, I'm recognizing that I'm going to have to get over my exercise avoidance issues because sweating is another key to detoxification. Sauna would be an alternative, but I haven't quite figured out where I could squeeze one in at the new house. Stay tuned on that. Maybe I can continue in my exercise avoidance bliss after all. No, seriously though, I do recognize that exercise is beneficial for some very significant health reasons, and also for staying mobile and avoiding injury. I'm hopeful that this will be my year. Just don't tell my personal trainer husband that or he'll start writing me workout plans.
10. Using glutathione daily is something I've also been on and off with during the last year. I just haven't really gotten into a serious daily routine. That's going to change. Glutathione is our body's most important detoxifier and the ability to produce glutathione is destroyed when someone is not methylating properly.
11. Liver support with herbs and other nutrients is an additional daily practice I'm looking into. I'm not sure exactly what I'll use for this. I would really prefer to just drink a daily tea over adding another supplement.
12. Increase magnesium. I prefer to do this through skin absorption because who doesn't love a nice tub soak. However, I also know that practically I struggle to get in 3-4 baths each week when showering is so much quicker. I am looking into a couple of options for oral magnesium and, in the meantime, I'll be taking my Calm magnesium powder at night before bed. It makes for a great night of sleep, which is always a good thing.
So, that's where I'm at. I'm sure I won't be able to implement all of these things at once. And, as I'm sure many of you have experienced as well, it's not like there is an endless supply of money to spend on preventative health. However, because I do value my health, and I don't really have the time or money to be sick, we do factor things like healthy food, supplements and complimentary care services into our budget. I guess I'm at the point in life that material things don't matter to me. I would much rather prioritize keeping myself well so that I'm capable of doing all that I'm supposed to do while I'm on this earth, and I'd like to stick around for awhile.
I plan to continue digging in to my 23andme raw data, to learn more about my genes, and how they are expressed. I have to say it is empowering to know. I've never been a fan of surprises, so hoping that the knowing will eliminate health surprises in my future. What about you? Have you discovered you have some genes that aren't functioning as well as they should be? Are you curious to learn more about a gluten or grain free diet, nutritional supplements or herbal teas? We'd love to help answer your questions or point you toward someone who can. At Simply Nourished we are all about bringing wellness within reach, and we'd love to connect with you.