Updated November 20th, 2017
Summary: Everyone has an MTHFR gene in one form or another. An MTHFR “mutation” means you inherited an MTHFR variant associated with a decreased ability to metabolize folic acid and folate.
In some cases, people with MTHFR mutations benefit from supplementing with methylfolate, which is the “bioactive” form of folate. This “gets around” the problems they have with folic acid in particular.
To find out whether MTHFR should be on your radar, you can take raw data from 23andme, or another provider like Ancestry, and upload the data to a site like Genetic Genie to determine whether you have one copy, or two copies of either MTHFR C677T, or MTHFR A1298C, the “mutant” versions of the gene.
My MTHFR Story
If you have an MTHFR “mutation,” you could be less effective at getting your body the nutrients it needs to repair DNA.
This can affect you in ways you might not have considered.
For example, I have a heterozygous A1298C MTHFR mutation, the MTHFR allele linked to cognitive function.
Methyl folate is a co-factor for BH4 (Tetrahydrobiopterin) production, a chemical responsible for creating “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain. I felt immediate cognitive effects by supplementing with methylfolate shots.
Now, in full disclosure, I received the maximum benefit after adding methylfolate, and other B vitamins, into my supplement regimen after many years of depleted levels. With one MTHFR SNP and an MTRR SNP, combined with too many years of living an unhealthy lifestyle in New York City, my B vitamin levels were low. Methylfolate supplements helped tremendously. I can remember taking a client call immediately after taking a B vitamin and methylfolate shot. It felt like the full expanse of my mind had been opened to me. Every word and phrase was right where I wanted it.
Now that I take better care of myself, I don’t need as much methyl folate (and most methyl donor supplements aren’t meant to be taken at very high doses indefinitely), but the initial doses, especially after a prolonged period of stress, drinking and eating out a lot in NYC, made a world of difference.
How do you know whether you have an MTHFR mutation?
You start by ordering a 23andme kit, or genetic labs from another provider. 23andme is probably the easiest option, requiring customers to drop a saliva sample in the mail. However, don’t assume getting actionable genetic information from 23andme will be easy. 23andme is restricted by law from giving you some health related information about your genetics, which means you’ll need to download the raw data and take it to a 3rd party.
Here’s how you can do that.
Once you’ve received your 23andme report, go to the “Tools” section of 23andme’s dashboard, and get your raw data.
Download and save.
Under Tools, 23andme has a drop down menu. Select “raw data.” You will then land on this page.
You want to download your raw data.
23andme will now bring you to this screen, which allows you to request that your raw data be emailed to you.
Now that you have your raw data, you can visit a site like Genetic Genie, which will take your raw 23andme data and give you a read out of your methylation genes, including MTHFR.
To make sense of the data you receive, it’s important to remember that MTHFR is the core gene, but within MTHFR, there are different alleles, or options, for the gene to express itself. You’re looking to see whether you have the alleles associated with methylation problems.
For a quick rundown on the difference between a gene and an allele, check out this video.
The MTHFR Mutations
Just like there are different types of Ford cars, there are different types of MTHFR genes. The numbers 677 and 1298 represent the base sequence, while the letter represents the allele. The Genetic Genie test is setup to hunt for the presence of alleles linked to diminished methylation performance. For example, everyone has MTHFR 677, but not everyone has the C677T gene, which is the mutated form of C677C, the “normal” allele. Some have the mutation on one side (heterozygous), others on both (homozygous).
Genetic Genie’s methylation analysis lists both MTHFR C677T as well as A1298C. If the line is yellow, you have one copy of the variant for that allele, if the line is red, both copies of the variant are present. If the line is green, you have the normal variant, called normal because it is associated with stronger methylation function.
As I mentioned above, I have one copy of the A1298C MTHFR mutation. This is what my Genetic Genie report looked like for that line.
MTHFR mutations do not equal zero function
It’s also important to understand that changes in the base sequence (from cytosine to thymine as with C677T) represent a diminished methylation ability, not zero methylation ability. In other words, even those with copies of the mutant allele, there is still function, and that function can be influenced by epigentic lifestyle factors.
To quote Genetic Genie:
Although we cannot change our genetic code, we can change how our genes are expressed. Research has revealed that our gene expression is not determined solely by hereditary factors, but it is also influenced by our diet, nutritional status, toxic load and environmental influences or stressors. This phenomenon has been termed “epigenetics”. Researchers in the growing field of epigenetics have demonstrated that certain genes can be over- or under-expressed with certain disease processes.
Epigentics explains why supplementing with methyl folate was so helpful for me after a long stint in New York City. Even a slight decrease in methylation function could be exacerbated by the typical high stress, high alcohol, high caffeine NYC life.
Those with homozygous (two copies of the “mutated gene”) can usually benefit even more from supplementing with methyl folate, vitamin B2 and other B vitamins.