Our genes naturally program the creation of tens of thousands of proteins and enzymes telling each of our 70 trillion cells what to do. The MTHFR gene specifically codes for an enzyme called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. This enzyme (also known as MTHFR) depends on folate or folic acid to function, and also influences folate activity in the body.
Good Folic Acid Conversion
Many of us inherit the fully functional version of the gene, known as MTHFR 677CC. If you have this version, and if you consume the recommended daily amount of folic acid from supplementation or folate from food or supplements (400 mcg), the enzyme functions normally.
Bad Folic Acid Conversion
Folate plays a crucial role in a series of biochemical reactions called methylation. However, if you inherited a less efficient version of the gene, known as MTHFR 677CT, your health could be at risk. The resulting enzyme has less activity— functioning at only 71 percent of normal, according to some estimates. This less efficient enzyme reduces your body’s ability to make important biochemicals.
One of the consequences of the CT gene variation is that blood levels of homocysteine tend to be abnormally high.
- Too much homocysteine damages blood vessels and is a recognized risk factor for premature heart attack and stroke.
- Studies indicate that high homocysteine levels resulting from an MTHFR gene variation may be a contributing factor for those who suffer from chronic migraine headaches.
- Research also shows a strong connection between high homocysteine and an increased risk for the development of Alzheimer Disease later in life.
- Women with the CT gene variation have double the risk of having a baby with a neural-tube birth defect, such as spina bifida. That’s because folate is needed early in fetal development, and women with the CT variation aren’t able to fully convert and absorb non-coenzymated forms of this vital nutrient.
Worst Folic Acid Conversion
As problematic as the CT version of the gene can be, some people inherit an even more dangerous variation, known as MTHFR 677TT. If you happen to be one of these individuals, your MTHFR enzyme activity is estimated to be only 34 percent of normal. Your blood homocysteine level will probably be very high, and you will have an even a significantly higher risk of premature heart attack and stroke. Studies also indicate a 69 percent greater risk of suffering from depression and a 36 percent higher risk of developing schizophrenia.
What you can do:
- Buy the right supplement. Most of the supplements on the market consist of folic acid or natural folate, which are not co-enzymated, and so the body must convert it to L-5 methyltetrahydrofolate, the active form of the vitamin in order for it to be effectively utilized. By using a pure co-enzymated folate it will help to ensure optimal bioavailability to all, and also helps eliminate the need for concern to those who are at risk.
- Genetic testing of your MTHRF gene via your health care practitioner, local lab, or online, will tell you what version you are living with. If you are chronically dealing with any of the health concerns mentioned above, and have not considered your folate conversion as a piece of the puzzle, talk to your qualified health care practitioner.
Folate/Folic Acid education from Dr. Mark Stengler
Featured image: news.liverpool.ac.uk/2016/02/03/viewpoint-2/