by Dr. Will Cole
Your body contains more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels and creates 25 million new cells every second. You are also a factory of chemical reactions which happen billions of times each second, and none are more important than a process called methylation that impacts and optimizes a huge number of processes inside you, from the production of DNA and neurotransmitters and energy, to the metabolism of hormones to detoxification.
Unfortunately, many people have genetic mutations that can cause methylation impairments, and one of the most common is the MTHFR gene mutation. It’s important to know if you have it in order to take action to compensate for its effects because otherwise, you may be putting yourself at greater risk for preventable chronic disease conditions caused by stress and modern life.
I have written in the past about how the unfortunate storm of modern environmental factors such as toxins, chronic stress, poor diet, and microbiome dysfunctions can trigger many of these health problems. Plus, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition now suggests that the rapid changes in our environment over a relatively short period of time could be the main factor in chronic health problems. If you have a methylation impairment, your risk of chronic health impairments is probably increased.
What exactly is the MTHFR mutation?
There are many different methylation genes, but the most famous one is the MTHFR gene. Some estimate that as many as 40 percent of the world – including me – have a MTHFR mutation, although most don’t know it.
Research in this area is still emerging, but what has currently been suggested is that the more methylation impairments we might have, the bigger potential for health problems.
To learn more about methylation impairments, read my previous article here. A simple genetic test can determine if you have one, and if you already know you do, here are some strategies I personally practice to help make up for this impairment and support your body’s methylation process:
Strategies for methylation support
As a functional medicine practitioner, I know that supporting your own health is a lifelong process, especially when dealing with genetic mutations that are not reversible and cannot be “cured.” As I dealt with my own MTHFR mutation, I wanted to take the time to do it right. I started with a 60-day reset diet to deal with my food intolerances, and then focused on my adrenal fatigue with a hormone-balancing protocol. I suggest you do this, too, under the guidance of a qualified functional medicine practitioner. Since each methylation impairment responds to care differently, what works for you will be different, too, and a professional practitioner can help guide your support interventions.
However, no matter who you are and how your issues manifest, there are some general tools you can use to support healthy methylation pathways. here’s what I personally do, and what you can do too, to support your own health for life:
1. Take activated B vitamins
Methylation runs primarily on B vitamins to work optimally. Support methylation impairments by taking activated B vitamins, like B9 L-Methylfolate (L-5-MTHF) and B6 Pyridoxyl-5-Phosphate (P5P).
2. Eat at least three cups of leafy greens every day
The methylation process requires folate, which is found in greens like kale, collards, chard, and spinach. The MTHFR mutation impairs folate absorption, so get that extra boost by filling up every day on lots of nutritious greens. If you find you can’t handle the roughage from so many raw greens, try steaming or sautéing them, or liquifying them into smoothies or cooking them into soups, to make them more digestible.
3. Eat at least three cups of sulfur-rich vegetables every day
Full of nutrients, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, mushrooms, and asparagus also support methylation. A warning, however: If you are sensitive to FODMAPS, a common food intolerance of certain types of carbohydrates, you may not tolerate these vegetables very well. In that case, work on healing your gut before introducing smaller amounts of these. You may be able to work up to 3 cups over time, as you heal.
4. Eat grass-fed liver about two times per week
This isn’t an option for vegetarians and vegans, obviously, but grass-fed organ meat, like liver, is the most bioavailable-rich source of B vitamins on the planet, so if you can eat it, go for it! If you balk at the taste, try it fried up with bacon and leafy greens like collards or kale.
5. Supplement to balance glutamate and GABA levels
Excess glutamate (your excitatory neurotransmitter) relative to GABA (your calming neurotransmitter) is common with methylation impairments. Glutamate imbalances are linked with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. If you feel nervous, anxious, fatigued, or unable to sleep, an imbalance of glutamate to GABA may be an issue for you.
To support the balance, I typically use blends of L-theanine, L-carnosine, resveratrol, pterostilbene, and extracts of magnolia bark, chamomile jujube seed, lemon balm, nettle leaf, sweet orange peel, passion flower, and skullcap root. I recommend talking to your health professional about what supplements and dosages might be best for you.
6. Supplement to keep lithium balanced
Lithium not only plays a role in mood, energy levels, and glutamate balance, but research also suggests its involvement in B12 transport and in turn, methylation. Consider asking your doctor if supplementing with low-dose lithium orotate could help improve your mood, energy, and overall well-being.
7. Supplement with vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is crucial for methylation and for overall health. The best sources are usually grass-fed meat and animal products, but supplementation may be necessary for those with methylation impairments who can’t fully absorb B12 from food sources. it’s important to talk to your doctor first, since everyone will tolerate the various types of B12 (like Adenosyl B12, Cyano B12, Hydroxycobalamin B12, Methyl B12) differently. Some forms can make you jittery or nervous, and taking too much could exacerbate symptoms.
The bottom line: Navigating MTHFR mutations and other methylation impairments can feel overwhelming, but professional help is available. Consider a free evaluation to see if functional medicine might be right for you.
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