Wednesday, April 6, 2011


It’s been awhile since I’ve written. Like all of you, I’ve been busy. We took a long trip to escape a bit of winter, but got back in time for record cold and snow at the end of February, followed by rain, rain, and more rain ever since. So much for escaping winter!

Last fall I was tested and found positive for MTHFR. Since returning home I’ve been learning more about that, and find it’s a subject that affects quite a few of us – some estimate as many as 40% of Americans and even more Canadians have this problem. MTHFR is an acronym for MethylTetraHydroFolate Reductase Polymorphism. Quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Hold on, because I’m going to simplify what I’ve learned. Indeed, without a background in biochemistry, most of us wouldn’t understand much of the information on the subject. That’s because, relatively speaking, the information is new and few doctors and fewer people who are not in any medical field know anything about it. Those who are familiar with this problem roll those huge words around all the time. The rest of us need a little help.

We can thank the Human Genome Project for what is known about MTHFR. This is a defective gene causing a missing enzyme that makes it difficult or impossible to methylate folate, a B vitamin found in leafy greens and other foods. This in turn makes it difficult or impossible to clear heavy metals and other toxins through the liver. Our livers are amazing organs that perform over 500 different functions. One of the liver’s most important tasks is detoxifying all sorts of things through two different pathways, or phases. In the case of MTHFR, phase 2 detoxification doesn’t work so well. Thus, toxins like mercury from dental fillings and vaccinations, alcohol, breakdown products of metabolism, lead, and other nasties tend to build up rather than be broken down and sent packing. After years of this build-up, our bodies are ripe for some ailment. And that ailment could be something your doctor may not yet know how to help you with most effectively.

MTHFR Results

According to Mark Hyman, MD, methylation is one of the body’s most essential biochemical functions, greatly affecting the working of almost all organ systems. Methylation is continuous, happening billions of times each second. One of its most important functions is repairing damaged DNA. Because methylation is so important, methy cycle abnormalities are possibly THE root cause of most of the serious diseases that plague us today. Problems commonly associated with MTHFR include, but are not limited to:

·         Infertility in men, causing low sperm count
·         Infertility in women
·         Miscarriage
·         Preeclampsia
·         Birth defects, including Down’s Syndrome and neural tube defects such as spina bifida
·         Autism – 98 % of autistic children tested positive for MTHFR
·         Allergies
·         Depression
·         Anxiety
·         Schizophrenia
·         Diabetes
·         Peripheral neuropathy
·         IBS
·         Viral infections
·         Mononucleosis
·         Parkinson’s
·         Migraine, especially the aura type
·         Susceptibility to addictions
·         Heart disease
·         Fibromyalgia
·         Autoimmune diseases of all sorts
·         Blood clots
·         Stroke
·         Arteriosclerosis
·         Osteoporosis
·         Short term memory problems
·         Dementia
·         Alzheimer’s
·         Cancer, especially breast, colon and pancreatic. This likely explains why I developed breast cancer.

Heavy metal accumulation

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? But wait, there’s more! Over time, as heavy metals are retained in the body, the burden becomes so great it causes its own set of symptoms:

·         Shyness and social difficulties or withdrawal
·         OCD
·         Bipolar disorder
·         Schizophrenia
·         Aggression
·         Tantrums
·         Poor concentration
·         Premature graying
·         Hair loss
·         Liver and kidney problems
·         Colon and pancreatic cancer
I’ve researched and gathered information from a number of doctors’ and researchers’ websites, so there is some overlap here.
Is there anything good associated with MTHFR? Oddly enough, it is often associated with genius. And one website said that in some cases it helps prevent cancer. I’m not sure how they figure it both causes and prevents cancer.

There are over 50 variants of this genetic defect, but currently there are tests only for two of them. I’m sure more tests will be forthcoming. One variant is C677T, the other A1298C. You have to inherit one gene from each parent. There are six variations possible from these two variants. Those with either two C677T or two A1298C are more prone to depression, addiction and environmental damage because lead, mercury and pesticides do not clear well. People with the severest symptoms are those who inherit one of each type. This combination shows increases in strokes, heart disease and blood clots as well.

How to find out…

There are tests your doctor can order for MTHFR, including:

·         MTHFR is the initial test for the gene defect.
·         HbA1C is an estimate of glucose intolerance. If it is in the 5.5-8 range it may be more difficult to dose the methyl B12 and it should be given daily.
·         Complete blood count, which can show if you have a type of anemia indicated by large red blood cells, with a mean corpuscular volume (MCV) greater than 95 which can signal methylation difficulties.
·         Homocysteine. Many doctors now order this as a measure of inflammation and heart disease. A measurement of less than 13 is considered normal, but Dr Hyman says the ideal level is probably between six and eight.
·         Serum or urinary methylmalonic acid. This test for B12 insufficiency is important. However, it can be elevated even with normal B12 or homocysteine levels.
·         Specific urinary amino and organic acids. This is another way of testing for metabolic disorders of vitamins B6, B12 and folate. It may indicate something not found by the previous tests. This is important because the three B vitamins are all essential to the methylation process.

The good news…

Should you find you are positive for MTHFR, the good news is that you can do a lot to help yourself better methylate folate and B12. Most of the following involve diet and supplements, and, in some cases, a prescription for a stronger methylated form of folate than you can buy over the counter.

  • It’s important to eat a nutrient-dense diet and maximize digestion and absorption. Keep in mind that everything you put into your mouth either supports health or helps tear it down, and opt for support every time you can.
  •  Eat lots of leafy greens. Be sure to eat at least four to five servings of veggies every day, and make a big part of those spinach, mustard, turnip greens, collard greens, beet greens, Swiss chard, bok choi, escarole, and watercress. All those leaves are packed with folate, nature’s own B vitamin, which is much healthier for your body than synthetic folic acid*. You’ll also find folate in eggs, broccoli, oranges and orange juice, peas and beans.
  • Since the other B vitamins are very important to methylation, eat rich sources of the B complex every day, including sunflower seeds, unsweetened whole milk yogurt with live cultures if you tolerate milk, wheat germ if you’re not allergic to wheat, nutritional yeast, walnuts, asparagus, whole grains, liver and almonds.
  • We all need protein, but most of us think we need more than we do. If you eat animal protein, keep amounts small and use it more as an ingredient than as the main event. Most adults need only about 45-50 grams daily. A piece of meat, fish or fowl the size of a deck of cards – a single deck - has about 15 grams. Two eggs have about 12 grams.
  • Eat your food fresh and much of it raw. Cooking, canning, freezing, indeed any processing depletes nutrients. Eat local when possible. The longer veggies travel the more nutrition they lose.
  •  We have huge amounts of bacteria in our digestive tract. Called gut flora, these little critters need to be in a healthy balance. That subject would take an article of its own, but you can help these important little critters by taking probiotics, eating raw fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, unsweetened yogurt, kombucha and kifer, and staying away from sugar and refined grains.
  • Great health requires good digestion, but most of us don’t make enough hydrochloric acid (HCl) after age 40, despite TV ads for acid blocking medicines to the contrary. So take HCl supplements. Call me, or another Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, if you need instructions for how to find your correct dose.
  •  If you have MTHFR you need a protocol of supplements that help your body do the methylating job required to detox heavy metals. I’ll address that protocol later in this article.
  •  Avoid sugar like the plague it causes! While you’re doing that, avoid trans fats from shortening, margarine and processed foods. Avoid supermarket vegetable oils. Use only expeller pressed or cold pressed oils – mostly extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, hempseed and flax oils. Never heat hemp or flax oils. Heat damages their fragile omega 3 fats that most of us get far too little of. Never heat any fats and oils too hot, as this turns them into trans fats, which are extremely harmful to your body.
  • Avoid all processed and refined foods, especially things made with white flour and sugar.
  •  Avoid caffeine. Wean yourself off coffee by diluting the grounds with decaf, a bit more every few days, until you’re caffeine-free without the headaches of sudden withdrawal. Caffeine depletes B vitamins.
  • Alcohol also depletes B vitamins, so if you drink, keep it down to only three glasses of wine or beer weekly.
  • Smoking depletes B6, so, if you haven’t stopped by now, perhaps this will supply added incentive.
  • Avoid medications that interfere with folate methylation, including methotrexate, used for cancer treatment; cholesterol-lowering drugs; anti-inflammatory drugs like sulfasalazine; biguanide drugs like buformin, phenformin, or metformin used for diabetes; birth control pills; diuretics, and some anti-seizure drugs.

Folate or Folic Acid?

*Before we get into the protocol for enhancing methylation, let’s talk a bit about the difference in folate and folic acid. Most of us are used to the term folic acid. Indeed, even my computer’s grammar checker knows that one, but it frowns, with a squiggly red underline, on the word folate. Yet folate is the natural form of B vitamin which is intrinsic, along with help from B12, B6 and a few minerals, to the methylation process. Folic acid, on the other hand, is the man-made or faux form, which doesn’t work the same way at all. Dr Fuhrman published an important article on the differences in how these two nutrients work in the body. I learned the information shared below from his website.

Dr Fuhrman gives facts and figures showing how very differently they each affect our bodies. Here’s a real zinger: In an article published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers collected data on womens’ folic acid intake from multivitamins over a 10 year period. They found that women who took multivitamins containing folic acid were more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those who did not.

He reports that in another study people taking folic acid for more than three years increased their risk of having a colorectal adenoma by 35%!

Folic acid, which is now in almost all prenatal vitamins, was found to increase the risk of childhood asthma by 26%! At another site I learned that a Johns Hopkins research study of more than 8,000 people found those with higher levels of folate had fewer IgE antibodies, showing they had fewer allergies and less asthma. Those with the lowest folate levels had a 40% greater risk of wheezing than people with the highest levels.

In a six-year Norwegian study, it was learned that those taking folic acid along with other B vitamins were 43% more likely to die from cancer than those who did NOT supplement with this artificial form of the vitamin.

Look out, folks! Folic acid, not the natural folate, is in almost all multivitamins and prenatal vitamins. Yet folic acid is chemically very different from folate. The body uses it differently. There are limits to how much folic acid the intestines can change into a more useable form of folate, and the excess, unmodified folic acid goes into the circulation in unmodified, alien form. And, though scientists don’t even know what this excess folic acid circulating in our bodies does, it is mandated to be added to flour and vitamin products! It’s possible, even likely, that an even larger cancer epidemic is developing because of this.

Instead of encouraging pregnant women to get lots of natural folate from veggies and beans, they are all taking folic acid, which is putting them at risk of breast cancer down the road. Not only this, but there are many other nutrients found in green veggies that these women aren’t getting, and therefore their fetuses aren’t getting, because they likely feel the vitamin supplements cover all the bases. Childhood cancers are on the upswing, yet many of these cancers could be avoided with better prenatal nutrition.

On the other hand, people NOT taking folic acid, but getting folate from food, have less cancer, based on the level of folate they consume. The more they folate they eat, the less cancer they have. Thus, the natural form is protective, while the artificial form promotes cancer.

Dr Fuhrman’s site has a chart showing how much folate is in a 100 calorie serving of many foods. Unfortunately, this chart has limitations, because it doesn’t tell you how big a serving holds 100 calories. Any idea how many spinach leaves it takes to add up to that? I suppose there is another chart somewhere that does, but it would be a tedious conversion.

And the protocol?

Dr. Neil Rawlins, who, along with everybody in his family, is positive for MTHFR, posted a simple protocol on his website. It consists of specific amounts of high dose methylated folate. Methylated B12, NAC, or N Acetyl Cysteine, full spectrum minerals, vitamins B6, C, E, zinc, omega 3 sources, milk thistle or silymarin herb, and glutathione, along with Epsom salts baths to help the body absorb magnesium and sulfate, both important in the methylation process. For specifics, go to To hear Dr. Rawlins give an informative talk on the subject, go to



  1. Fabulous review, Rebecca! thanks for saving us all this time to do the research, and worse, not even to know WHAT to research. You are the best! Thanks so very much!
    Mary Beth
    Troy, NY

  2. This has been so so helpful. Thank you for taking the time to write this. All the best to you.