Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. There's a line of letters you don't see every day. And yet, MTHFR (the accepted shorthand - and, yes, we all think the same thing when we see these letters together!) is getting a lot of attention from a lot of folks - even conventional medicine is willing to consider its effects on heart health and fertility. But that's about it...if you find the right provider.
This is a space for talking about all things allergies and food sensitivities and histamine intolerance and it makes sense to talk about MTHFR here, too. If we simply look at human biochemistry, we can see how MTHFR will impact histamine and sensitivities. (Want to read more? Click here.)
But even the majority of functional and integrative medicine providers out there will simply recommend methyl-folate to anyone with MTHFR gene susceptibilities. Methyl-folate may be the solution for some folks, but it can cause a LOT of issues for others, e.g. increased anxiety, worsening depression, increased pain, nausea, headaches and the list goes on.
Methyl-folate is not the magic solution for everyone! At least not as a first step.
And that's why we're looking at the genes involved in histamine metabolism and how we can improve their function…so we have fewer histamine symptoms. (Don't forget we need histamine - it's a really important neurotransmitter! But too much of anything can cause issues!) The things we can do to affect how our biochemistry works are called epigenetic factors, or I like to talk about the Four Cornerstones of Epigenetics.
Let's break down the Four Cornerstones for MTHFR.
The First Cornerstone of Epigenetics - Sleep
Sleep is one of the tools your body uses to manage detoxification and oxidative stress. Anything you do to reduce oxidative stress in your body will help support all of your biochemistry, including MTHFR.
The Second Cornerstone of Epigenetics - Stress Management
Keep in mind "stress" in epigenetics may be the emotional and mental stress we all mutter about on a daily basis, but there is another really important kind of stress - physiological. This is when your body is dealing with chronic pain or chronic inflammation. It can be long-standing infections like different viruses or gut dysbiosis.
For MTHFR, making sure your thyroid is well-balanced and not too hot or too cold is important. There are a lot of individuals walking around with subclinical hypothyroidism (meaning doctors don't identify it because they're not always good at listening to your symptoms if the bloodwork looks OK.) If your TSH is above 2, consider talking to an integrative or functional provider about how to support thyroid and take some of the stress off your body.
The Third Cornerstone of Epigenetics - Environmental Exposures
Usually we're talking about different chemicals with this Cornerstone. Today, sunshine is the environmental exposure that impacts MTHFR. MTHFR helps your body use folate and make SAMe (which is the stuff important to histamine metabolism because it supports HNMT). When you spend time in the peak sun hours, your skin can become damaged by the sun exposure. Your body then uses folate to fix that damage instead of making as much SAMe.
This is not a call to avoid the outside and never get any sun! It IS a strong recommendation to use sunscreen and common sense when you're going to be outside during the middle of the day when the sun is most intense.
The Fourth Cornerstone of Epigenetics - Food Choices
The biggest change I recommend to folks with MTHFR gene susceptibilities is to go gluten-free. It isn't about the gluten, though…at least not for everyone. In the US, our breads and cereals and grains are fortified with folic acid, a synthetic form of folate. Folic acid can slow down your body's ability to bring in folate/folic acid and B12, both of which impact MTHFR's ability to support methylation. By going gluten-free, you're limiting how much folic acid you're getting in your diet.
Folate, in prepared foods, supplements, or your leafy green veggies is WONDERFUL! Don't skip the folate. Just make sure your labels all say "folate" and not "folic acid".
For transparency, there is a lot of arguing out there right now about this approach to MTHFR, e.g. avoiding synthetic folic acid. I can tell you it has made a difference in how I feel and in my labs, and the same for many of my patients. That said, here is one of my favorite self-care reminders -
Sixty-second Self-care Tip…
The goal of epigenetics is to discover ways you can support your biochemistry without necessarily taking medications or even supplements. I do believe supplements play a huge role in filling dietary and stress-induced nutritional gaps.
Working with any provider or taking tips from any influencer also REQUIRES you to do one huge thing - listen to your body. Just because someone says less sun time or going gluten-free or even adding riboflavin or niacin is exactly what you need for XYZ issue doesn't mean that it will serve you well.
You are unique. You have your own genetics, life story and stressors you live with every day. No one else knows your body like you do. Listen to it. Trust it. Honor it.
One of the challenges in doing that is medicine, even in the functional and integrative worlds, makes rules. And if we don't follow the rules, we are "non-compliant" or "difficult". We may even get a stern talking to by a provider.
Rediscovering your health and wellbeing shouldn't involve blindly following anyone's rules nor should it involve getting a lecture when you don't comply.
Looking for some support in solving your histamine intolerance or food sensitivity struggles? Want someone to simply tell you about MTHFR and the other genes and how to support them and your health at the same time? Just want someone to listen? Consider joining the waitlist for my 5-week program, Food Sensitivity Code. It's being overhauled right now with more genetics and more actionable information…to put you in control of what you eat and how you feel! Coming soon!