5 Non-Supplement Ways to Support MTHFR
Many of us know our MTHFR genotype, since testing is becoming more common even in conventional practice, and with the emergence of direct-to-consumer genetic testing services. It is particularly associated with certain conditions such as autism and heart disease, but poorly functioning MTHFR pathways are also connected with diabetes, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and more.
MTHFR stands for methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase, an enzyme that converts folate into its active methylated form so that it can be used to form so-called ‘methyl’ compounds that are amazingly versatile and used in hundreds of different reactions that occur all the time in our bodies. A well-functioning MTHFR gene supports methylation activity to help keep homocysteine levels normal, assist with creating new cells, form important neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline and adrenaline, help with detoxification, clear out excess hormones and even act on our genes to regulate which ones get turned on and which ones stay turned off. It has wide reaching impacts throughout the body.
If you know you have one of the gene variants for MTHFR (C677T or A1298C) you may have been advised to supplement with methylated folate, vitamin B12 and even other nutrients that help support those pathways. But did you know that there are many non-supplement ways to support MTHFR and methyl compound levels? Here are our top five:
- Look to food: Food can be a rich source of methylation nutrients that also provides a multitude of synergistic benefits. You can get lots of folate from dark leafy greens, legumes, and daikon radishes for example. Liver is also an excellent source of folate as well as the vitamins B2, B3, B6, and B12, and cysteine, methionine, betaine and choline, which are all useful for methyl compound formation. Fermented foods are also extremely useful, since they will support a healthy microbial population in the gut, and those happy gut bugs will go a long way to producing a steady supply of folate for us to use too!
- Quench inflammation: Inflammation promotes inappropriate methylation activity, including on our genes. If we have too much methylation on certain cancer-protective genes, it actually causes them to get turned off. That’s definitely not what we want! You may suspect inflammation if you have any ongoing conditions especially involving pain, redness, swelling, tenderness, fatigue, or brain fog. Even having gingivitis in your mouth increases the level of inflammation throughout your whole body! To quench inflammation, make sure you’re including plenty of colorful plant foods in your diet, and consider supplements such as turmeric and boswellia.
- Exercise: Exercise improves our body’s ability to form usable methyl compounds independently of MTHFR status. It also makes sure that methylation on our genes is occurring appropriately, either by increasing methylation status or demethylating where appropriate. Regular aerobic exercise for more than 6 months, for example, has been shown to act similarly to conventional cancer drugs that remove methylation marks from cancer-protective genes. Remember, though, to build up your exercise resilience gradually, since over-training beyond your capacity isn’t helpful.
- Reduce your toxin exposure: Methylation is an important way that our bodies process toxic substances for elimination. If we increase our body’s burden of exposure then we are using up those methyl compounds more quickly, leaving fewer for other biological activities. Not only that, but toxins from pesticides, fertilizers, BPA, phthalates and heavy metals alter our gene expression by changing methylation activity in damaging ways.
- Manage your stress: Whenever we induce our stress response our bodies use methyl compounds both to form and break down adrenaline. This action in situations of short term stress is completely appropriate, but if we are in chronic states of stress then we are putting a significant drain on our reserve of methyl compounds. Reducing stress inputs where possible, and learning to manage our stress response are very helpful ways to keep methyl compounds available for other uses in the body.
For more information about supporting methylation with diet and lifestyle, see our eBook Methylation Diet and Lifestyle available here.
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Our podcast interview with Dr. Kara Is There Really a Way to End all Disease? Even Cancer? Gettin’ Real About Methylation