Did you know that excess levels of folic acid (folates) can increase fat storage and weight gain in people with the MTHFR gene variation?
That's because MTHFR helps your body process folate, which supports your body's methlyation cycles, crucial for neurotransmitter and hormone balance.
Before we take one step further, we need to understand the difference between folic acid and folates.
Folates are found naturally in foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, tropical fruit, seafood, beans, legumes, and dairy products.
Folic acid is man-made, e.g., synthetic. It’s commonly found in supplements and fortified foods (where a nutrient has been added to a food product).
For example, if you were to pick an orange from your garden and eat it, you would not be eating folic acid. You would be eating folates, unfortunately these terms are used interchangeably which is where the confusion often lies.
MTHFR contains the genetic code that helps your body make methyl-folate (folate’s active form).
Folate is critical to the methylation process, a series of chemical reactions responsible for making energy, repairing our DNA and making neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters include things like dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, thyroid hormone, and glutathione - think low mood/motivation (dopamine), lack of sleep (serotonin) reduced metabolism (thyroid hormones) and poor detoxification (lack of glutathione).
In short, The MTHFR gene provides instructions for your body to make the MTHFR protein which helps your body process folate. Folates are associated with changes in the expression of genes involved in fat metabolism.
Many people who test positive for MTHFR have a fatty liver!
A fatty liver is often blamed on excess alcohol, however, MTHFR is also associated with low B12, which is essential for the metabolism of proteins and fats. Fats and cholesterol are transported to the liver (after we have eaten) ready to be transported through the blood to tissues and cells that require fats – think hormone production, organ protection and nerve insulation. The reduction in the MTHFR enzyme can’t keep up with the processing of the fats so they end up being stored.
MTHFR also tells our body how to create an enzyme involved in breaking down the amino acid homocysteine. This is also part of the methylation cycle which contributes to hormone imbalances such as in estrogen dominance, think disproportionately wide hips or a larger than average bust. In short, you need to methylate estrogen to clear it efficiently. Without this ability, you are likely to struggle to lose weight.
Last, but by no means least MTHFR is linked to a buildup of homocysteine a chemical your body uses to make proteins. Normally, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and folate break down homocysteine and change it into other substances your body needs. When all of these mechanisms are in place there should be very little homocysteine left in the bloodstream.
What to do!
Don’t panic! Everyone has two MTHFR genes, one inherited from your mother and one from your father. You can have either one or two mutations, or none! Mutations are often called variants. Having one variant (heterozygous) is less likely to contribute to health issues, having two mutations (homozygous) may lead to more serious problems including:
Don’t wait for a ticking time bomb!
If you want to know if this affects you, consider that 40% of all people carry an MTHFR gene mutation! If you want to know if you have a MTHFR variant you can have a genetic test.
Alternatively look for supplements with methylated B vitamins (they may also be advertised as “active.”)
These supplements will be more expensive than folic acid because folic acid is cheaper than actual folate, hence why many vitamin manufacturers use this form of vitamin B9.
As previously mentioned folic acid needs to be converted into folate, which is then converted to 5-methyltetrahydrofolate. For individuals with the MTHFR mutation, folic acid conversion is another step that their bodies are unable to handle.
Through the analysis of your health history, diet, lifestyle and genetic predisposition, we might discover the need to support your digestive system by addressing leaky gut and increasing your good gut bacteria to support methylation deficiency.
This includes addressing things like candida, mold and gut infections which release toxins that inhibit methylation. We can also take a look at your blood work. If your homocysteine levels are high, you may have a methylation issue or a B12/folate deficiency.
In the meantime,…
Avoid all products with added or fortified folic acid the synthetic form of vitamin B9 found in fortified supplements (pregnancy supplements) breads, cereals and commercially produced flours by checking labels.
Check your supplements. If any of them has folic acid added, consider switching to a brand that use active forms of folate known as methyl folate.
Get your folate from natural sources including dark leafy greens like broccoli, Brussels sprouts , spinach, kale, spring greens, and Bok choy. You should aim for at least 1 cup or more of dark greens every day.