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Methylation, Detoxification, and the Glamorous MTHFR Lifestyle.

I’m picturing sequins and feathers and beautiful women in luscious red dresses and martini glasses with skewers of exotic fruit. Okay, so maybe it’s not that glamorous, but there IS an MTHFR lifestyle. We’ll get to that in a minute.

 the glamorous MTHFR lifestyle
This is EXACTLY what the MTHFR lifestyle is like. In my dreams..
Amazing photo Photo by Boluwatife TheSalt from Pexels

First, The Detox Part…

Detoxification sounds like a thing we do after a raging party or a week-long trip to Vegas. In reality, it isn’t. It’s something we do CONSTANTLY. We detox after drinking water, breathing air, eating food, exercising, during sleep and just from the entirely normal body processes that happen every day. This isn’t reserved for when you’ve added something to your body that is known to be toxic, it’s as constant as death and taxes.

You can, of course, “do a detox,” which usually means taking a few days out of your life and really pushing your body to clean house, by either fasting or eating a very simple clean diet, supporting your liver with herbs or supplements, ramping up the fiber or other gut sponges like clay or charcoal, and doing detox activities like Epsom salts baths and saunas to sweat it out. “Detoxing” in this way is also dependent on methylation, but I’m talking about the far more simple every-day housekeeping that your body needs to do.

Why Do We Need Methylation To Detox?

Methylation is actually one of the main pathways your body uses to eliminate certain toxins. Detoxification of most substances happens in three phases, a few substances need all three, most need two and some need only the first phase.

  • Phase I – Modification. In this phase, the original toxins are modified to make them more reactive and polar. This is so that we can do more things to them – like making them water-soluble (if they’re fats) or getting them into the right state to attach something else to them so we can actually chuck them out. Note that phase I often makes these chemicals more active, and they’re usually still small enough to cross cell membranes so if they can’t move on to Phase II, they can hang around doing damage – sometimes even more damage than the original substance itself. This largely happens through the Cytochrome P450 pathway, which we don’t need to discuss here.
  • Phase II – Conjugation. This phase attaches a charged molecule (like a methyl group, for instance), in order to make the molecule less biologically active and also allow it to be actively transported out. There are six different phase II reactions, one of which is methylation.
  • Phase III – Further Modification and Excretion. Many toxins are excreted after Phase II, but a few need this additional step.

What Happens in Methylation?

To be clear, this does not use the MTHFR enzyme directly, it uses the product of the MTHFR enzyme, which is SAM-e. In methylation reactions your body takes the mutant-mickey-mouse-head methyl group off of SAM-e and attaches it to the toxin so that the toxin can be eliminated. For MTHFR folks, SAM-e might not be as plentiful as it should be, because there is a bottleneck through the MTHFR enzyme.

the MTHFR lifestyle: methylation and detox
The chemistry-intense process of toxin methylation, made ridiculously simple.

What Type of Toxins Need to Be Methylated?

There are many, but the ones of most concern are heavy metals. These include arsenic, mercury, selenium (which is toxic with too much exposure, but necessary in small amounts) and cadmium.

That Doesn’t Seem Like A Lot – What Is The Problem?

As with every other body system, chemical pathways and enzymatic reactions have the bad habit of interconnecting – meaning the products or function of one pathway ends up being necessary for the action of another. This is how MTHFR messes up your urea pathway (how we detox ammonia and make urine) and any pathway that needs glutathione (the master antioxidant. They don’t call it that for no reason.) We’ll have to get to glutathione another week because this is getting a bit heavy.

Okay, So… The Urea Pathway.

the MTHFR lifestyle matters because of the way these cycles all interconnect.
the MTHFR lifestyle matters because of the way these cycles all interconnect.

As you can see in this diagram, the urea pathway uses end products of the BH4 pathway, which needs methylation to work. If methylation is bottlenecked, BH4 is in short supply, and the toxic waste ammonia builds up because your body can’t convert it to urea, which is eliminated in your urine. Ammonia causes neurological inflammation. At very high levels (usually only seen in actual liver failure – not so much with MTHFR mutations) ammonia overload can lead to seizures, coma, and death.

What Is The MTHFR Lifestyle?

It sounds like it could be so good. And honestly, for people with MTHFR mutations it does make life much better, but it’s not so glamorous. We will talk about it at great length in other posts, but here are some of the basics.

We will talk about all of this in detail – I promise.

An Interesting Aside About Sweating It Out

There has been lots of debate over the usefulness of sweating during therapeutic detox, with naysayers, like this article in the New York Times, claiming that such a tiny amount of toxin elimination is effectively meaningless.

Dr. Schwarcz compared it to someone sitting in a bathtub worrying about drowning. Removing a dropper-full of water from the tub will theoretically reduce the risk — because the chance of drowning is lower in less water — but getting rid of so little water will be effectively meaningless.

Dr. Joe Schwartz, Chemistry professor, McGill University. Cited from above linked NYT article.

Interestingly, the article also acknowledges that heavy metals and BPA from plastics have been detected in sweat.

A systematic review, published in the Journal of Environmental Public Health, compiled research studies on arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury excretion in sweat. This shows a clear documentation within the research of the ability of your body to eliminate these substances through sweat.

Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury may be excreted in appreciable quantities through the skin, and rates of excretion were reported to match or even exceed urinary excretion in a 24-hour period. 

Sears ME, Kerr KJ, Bray RI. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: a systematic review. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:184745. doi:10.1155/2012/184745

Clinically, I have seen therapeutic sweating as part of a larger protocol to be highly beneficial for many clients, helping them to improve their energy levels, reduce brain fog, decrease sensitivity reactions and improve their overall health, but on the evidence pyramid, things we observe in clinical practice are always on the low end, because there are so many uncontrolled variables. Those people might have improved because of sweating AND other things we were working on, or solely because of the other things we were working on, or because of something entirely different. This is why, when I’m talking about things I’ve observed in clinical practice, I’m very careful to specify. Also, in terms of my categories of evidence, I’d give the whole sweating it out concept a C. This means there is a combination of some research and clinical evidence, but not definitive proof.

What is methyl detox ?

Methyl detox is a term that is used to describe one of the phase II detoxification pathways that attaches a methyl group to some harmful compound to help eliminate it from the body. Methyl groups are a carbon atom bonded to three hydrogen atoms. Some common examples of methyl detoxification include the breakdown of homocysteine via the HNMT enzyme, or the detoxification of estrogen via the COMT enzyme.

Many gene SNPs affect the process of methylation, or methyl detox, including MTHFR, MTR, MTRR, and AHCY. There are also gene SNPs like HNMT, which affects histamine methylation, or COMT which affects the methylation of estrogen and neurotransmitters. Healthy and balanced methylation is vital to the normal functioning of your body. It is important to speak with a healthcare provider before starting any type of detox program, as it may not be appropriate or safe for everyone.

How to detox your liver with MTHFR?

MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) is an enzyme that plays a role in the metabolism of folate, and is involved in the production of DNA and other genetic material. Some people have genetic variations in the MTHFR gene that may affect the way their bodies process folate, which can have an impact on their health.

There is no specific detox protocol that is specifically designed to target the liver with MTHFR, but it is important to make sure that your methylation and folate status are healthy before beginning any liver support. However, there are some general strategies that may be helpful in supporting liver health:

Eat a healthy diet: A diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in processed and unhealthy foods, can help support liver function.

Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity can help improve overall health and support liver function.

Drink plenty of water: Staying hydrated can help flush toxins out of the body and support liver function.

Avoid alcohol and drugs: Excessive alcohol consumption and drug use can put a strain on the liver and should be avoided.

Consider supplements: Certain supplements, such as milk thistle and N-acetyl cysteine, may have liver-protective effects and may be worth considering under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

It is important to speak with a healthcare provider before starting any type of detox program or taking supplements, as they may not be appropriate or safe for everyone.

Does MTHFR affect the liver?

MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) is an enzyme that plays a role in the metabolism of folate, and is involved in the production of DNA and other genetic material. Some people have genetic variations in the MTHFR gene that may affect the way their bodies process folate, which can have an impact on their health.

There is limited research on the specific effects of MTHFR on the liver. However, some studies have suggested that people with MTHFR genetic variations may have an increased risk of certain health conditions that can affect the liver, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and liver fibrosis. However, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between MTHFR and liver health, and it is not clear whether MTHFR genetic variations are a direct cause of these conditions or if other factors may be involved.

It is important to note that MTHFR genetic variations are common, and having a variation does not necessarily mean that you will develop liver problems. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol and drugs, can help support liver health and reduce the risk of liver-related health problems. If you are concerned about your liver health, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider for personalized advice and guidance.

Does folate help detox the liver?

Folate is a B-vitamin that plays a role in a number of important processes in the body, including the production of DNA and other genetic material, the metabolism of certain nutrients, and the production of red blood cells. While folate is important for overall health, there is limited evidence to suggest that it has specific detoxifying effects on the liver. Also, natural folate and synthetic folic acid have different effects, especially in people with the MTHFR mutation.

There are some general strategies that may be helpful in supporting liver health, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding alcohol and drugs. It is also important to speak with a healthcare provider before starting any type of detox program, as it may not be appropriate or safe for everyone.

If you are concerned about your liver health, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider for personalized advice and guidance. They can assess your specific needs and recommend appropriate treatment options, if needed.

How does MTHFR affect detoxification?

MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) is an enzyme that plays a role in the metabolism of folate, and is involved in the production of DNA and other genetic material. Some people have genetic variations in the MTHFR gene that may affect the way their bodies process folate, which can have an impact on their health.

There is limited research on the specific effects of MTHFR on detoxification. The process of methylation, which is the transfer of a methyl group to a toxin, is one of the phase II liver detoxification processes and methylation needs the healthy production of SAMe, which is linked to the MTHFR enzyme, so there is a potential link.

Detoxification is a complex process that involves the removal of toxins from the body, and it is carried out by a number of different organs and systems, including the liver, kidneys, and skin. The liver is the primary organ involved in detoxification, and it plays a role in breaking down and eliminating toxins from the body.

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MTHFR is a common genetic mutation that can contribute to anxiety, depression, fatigue, chronic pain, infertility, and more serious conditions like breast implant illness, heart attack, stroke, chronic fatigue syndrome, and some types of cancer. If you know or suspect you have an MTHFR variant, schedule a free 15-minute meet-and-greet appointment with MTHFR expert Dr. Amy today.

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Amy Neuzil
Amy Neuzil

Dr. Amy Neuzil, N.D. is a leading expert in MTHFR and epigenetics, and she is passionate about helping people achieve optimal health and wellness for their genetic picture. She has helped thousands of people overcome health challenges using a simple, step-by-step approach that starts with where they are today. Dr. Neuzil's unique approach to wellness has helped countless people improve their energy levels, lose weight, and feel better mentally and emotionally. If you're looking for a way to feel your best, Dr. Amy Neuzil can help. Contact her today to learn more about how she can help you achieve optimal health and wellness.

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2 Comments

    • Oh, wow! Thanks for sending this along, Kelly. It’s good to see research trending in our direction! It’s amazing how much research on nutritional basics (like this) is still just waiting to be done. Thanks again!

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