S2E18: What is the MTHFR Lifestyle?

I mention the MTHFR Lifestyle a lot, but don’t always clarify what I’m talking about, and at this phase of the journey, it matters a lot. If you’re following along with the process in this podcast series, then you have done a number of remarkable things. You’ve:

  • Taken folic acid out of your diet and supplements
  • Added a good foundation of other B vitamins
  • Started 5-LMTHF, folinic acid, or SAMe – whichever of those options is the most easily tolerated for you.

Chances are you’re feeling better – clearer, more energetic, happier, less anxious, and generally like you’re on the right track. And you are. You are doing amazing and I am so proud of you for coming this far.

When I talk about the MTHFR Lifestyle, it’s really to remind people that our genes are for life. We will always have them, and when we happen to have MTHFR it can stand as a great reminder that we will thrive the best when we actually make health a priority.

Many people ignore their health until the wheels fall off the cart. That usually looks like a heart attack or a big diagnosis, or hitting some kind of health and functioning wall. Some of us may have done the same. The thing is, with MTHFR we will always do the best when we are making space in our lives to take care of our bodies. We will always do the best when we’re living the MTHFR Lifestyle.

What Is the MTHFR Lifestyle?

Put simply, it’s a life that puts physical health, mental health, and even spiritual or soul health on your radar every day. This isn’t something that we have the dubious luxury of forgetting – when we have something like MTHFR, it matters to make health a priority. To always be mindful of how we are treating ourselves and how we are caring for ourselves. It’s easy to rail against it and think that it’s unfair we have to pay so much attention to this when other people seem to be able to do whatever they want, but it’s also a blessing in disguise.

Living the MTHFR lifestyle gives us permission to make our own self-care a priority every day. That is actually kind of huge, when you think about it. It’s a good reason to take the best possible care of yourself.

What is the MTHFR Lifestyle in concrete terms?

This lifestyle involves making health a priority without getting too extreme. It focuses on things like:

  • Discovering and avoiding your food sensitivities.
  • Clearing as many toxins and chemicals out of your diet, home, and water as you can.
  • Keeping healthy fruits, veggies, beans, and pulses in your diet.
  • Making good sleep a priority.
  • Mindfulness meditation or some other mind-taming activity.
  • Moderate exercise (not too much and not too little).
  • Moderate protein (not too much because it can raise homocysteine).
  • Good hydration.
  • Gentle detox support like hot baths, saunas, dry skin brushing and castor oil.
  • Taking time for rest, relaxation, and joy.

When you look at it like this, it sounds sort of idyllic. Good sleep, relaxation, joy, some exercise, great food. This is the MTHFR lifestyle we’re striving for.

I know, being a realist, that it’s hard to maintain this kind of lifestyle in a busy, overstressed, modern world. I also know, that taking small steps towards it can have a huge impact on your wellbeing and quality of life. When you think about it, who do you know who doesn’t need a bit more self-care?

I feel like it’s especially important now, in this time of global pandemic and the related stress because even if you don’t consciously feel like it’s a stressful time, there is an underlying chunk of mental burden related to covid that we don’t normally carry. For everyone this is new, and for everyone it adds another weight. All we can do is take better care of ourselves so we can support that weight more gracefully.

Now, please be clear that I’m not the type of health cheerleader to ever tell you your life/diet/self-care or routine all need to be perfect. Sometimes the thing you need most for your wellbeing is a churro. Or a Christmas cookie, or a gin and tonic. A healthy lifestyle has lots of wiggle room for treats. Also, if your foundation is solid, then small treats bring benefits rather than harm. I am never going to be the one to preach to 100% clean. If you can get to 90% then you’re doing amazing.

Also, be gentle with yourself. I’ve been doing this for years, have a doctoral level education in how to take care of myself, and I still go through ups and downs. It’s human nature. Sometimes my self-care is rocking – I’m doing everything right and I”m on fire and it’s amazing. Sometimes, it isn’t. I go through periods where I’m just not as motivated to do it all, or I don’t have the bandwidth, or the rest of my life has eaten my self-care. That’s ok too. This is all a process of continuing to make the choice, every day, to make caring for yourself a priority. There isn’t any judgment, there isn’t any winning or losing, it’s just a process that allows you to take steps toward a richer life.

Thank you so much for listening today, and I really hope this inspires you to give yourself just a little more care. Also, I”d love it if you’d take the time to sign up for the mailing list -there are so many great things coming up this year and I want you to be the first to know.

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S2E15: What To Do For Detox Symptoms

Two weeks ago we talked about some of the symptom patterns that can arise as you’re working with MTHFR. Honestly, they can show up for lots of people, but detox symptoms are especially common for us MTHFR folks. So let’s talk about a few things we can do to tackle this feeling. Remember, step one is to recognize your pattern of detox symptoms, so start there. Go through your symptom tracker and see what symptoms seem to flare up together, and if any of those might just be related to detoxification.

There are a few ways we can cope with detox symptoms and they fall into two general categories.

  1. Decreasing the amount of stuff your body has to do that day
  2. Increasing the ease of actually eliminating whatever it is you’re detoxifying.

Detoxification is a process that is happening when you have detox symptoms coming up. It is happening because you have junk that needs to go, and it stops when the junk is gone. So our goal is to get the junk gone faster. How’s that for creative use of the English language?

Decreasing Your Tasks For The Day

Your body has a whole list of stuff it has to do every day. There’s cell division, cell repair, and cell elimination when they’re too damaged to fix. There’s all of the normal stuff you do like pumping blood, collecting and distributing oxygen, and fighting off the constant stream of invading bacteria, viruses, fungi and other pathogens. There’s digestion and elimination and the manufacture of all of the enzymes and fluids involved in that process. There’s blood to be filtered and waste to be eliminated. It’s hard work, running your body.

Of course, as the wearer of the meat-suit, you don’t have to think about any of that. You can just happily go about doing all of the things you normally do while your body handles it all. Pretty amazing, when you think about it.

So on days when detox symptoms are coming up and you haven’t had a big exposure (like you didn’t go out drinking, drive all day in a formaldehyde soaked new car, or accidentally eat the lead paint), then it means your body just has too much on it’s plate that day. The stuff on your body’s plate is what I like to refer to as your bucket. Your bucket is filled up with all of your body’s work that is going on right now because of things you’re doing right now like breathing and eating and maintaining homeostasis. When your bucket overflows, that’s when you see symptoms. These detox symptoms are no exception – that bucket is too full.

Long-term there are lots of things that you can do to take a chunk out of your bucket, like eliminating food sensitivities, cleaning up your diet, getting better sleep and clearing some of the toxins out of your home and environment. But what about short-term? Like these detox days when your bucket is overflowing.

Intermittent Fasting

In good news, there are short-term bucket clearers too and one of my favorites is intermittent fasting. Fasting, which essentially boils down to not eating, is a great way to take some of your body’s to-do list off of the table. If you’re not eating food for a little while then your body doesn’t have to do all of the digestive things it normally does. It doesn’t have to make so much of the enzymes and fluids, it doesn’t have to do all of the mixing and moving that food requires, and it doesn’t have to absorb, sort, or eliminate anything. In fact, not digesting takes a huge chunk of work out of there and your body can use those resources for other things.

Now, obviously not eating long-term isn’t a great strategy – you need to eat at some point, but if you wake up feeling gross and like you’re detoxing, stick to water for the first part of the day. If you can, stick to water only (with some hydration support like salt, a squeeze of lemon or lime, or even some apple cider vinegar) until dinner time. Then, eat a healthy dinner and head to bed.

So actually, this day is easier than normal because in addition to not doing the metabolic work of eating you also don’t have to cook or find food. Bonus! Of course it does get in the way of all of the Covid-eating we’re all doing these days, but maybe that isn’t a bad thing to miss for a day as well.

Increasing Elimination

The other strategy to help your body over the hurdle of detox symptoms is to help your body detoxify faster or more efficiently. There are a few things you can do towards this goal.

Liver Support

The best liver support for this type of day is something gentle like a detox tea, or a digestive aid like bitters, apple cider vinegar, or a digestive enzyme with ox bile before meals. These are gentle things that are unlikely to push you further into symptom territory and that will give your liver a bit of a boost to get through whatever it is working on this particular day. I don’t suggest liver supportive supplements unless you’re working with a practitioner, simply because for MTHFR folks some of the liver support supplements can push just a little bit too hard and actually cause symptoms instead of helping to resolve them.

Gentle Detox Aids

There are a number of gentle detox aids and I’ve talked about many of them before. These are ways you can physically help your body to detox without pushing your liver or detoxification pathways too hard. In fact, these things will help when you have symptoms. My favorites are:

  1. Sweat It Out – Sweating is a great way to boost circulation and to eliminate small amounts of toxins including heavy metals, which MTHFR folks have a hard time eliminating because they need to be methylated. Sweating it out can be accomplished in a wet or dry sauna, a hot bath, a hot car, or even with a great workout. Just make sure you wash the sweat off afterward because you can reabsorb lots of things from your skin. Also, you’ll smell better.
  2. Castor Oil – Castor oil is one of my favorite old-timey remedies and one of the most effective things you can do to support detoxification. It should not be taken internally – you would regret that – but it can be applied topically. My favorite way to use it is to slather up before bed, put on my castor oil pajamas, and go to sleep like that. I’m sleeping and detoxing all at once. I talked quite a bit about castor oil last season in Season 1, Episode 24 on Gentle Detox Strategies. If you need a refresher on using castor oil, that’s a great place to look.
  3. Fiber or Clay – Fiber and clay can both be taken internally, although make sure your clay is actually food grade before you mix it up and drink it. Both of these are what is called a “gut sponge,” meaning they bind to toxins and carry them out of your body so that they are actually eliminated and not reabsorbed. Human bodies are incredibly thrifty and we tend to eliminate toxins, then go back through what we’ve eliminated and pick them up again. Especially if they look like fats or other precious resources. That means hormones that need to be eliminated are especially susceptible to this reabsorption because they are built on a cholesterol backbone and our bodies have been well trained through the millennia to keep cholesterol around. Fiber and clay both have big porous structures and toxins get bound to them, then they can’t be reabsorbed so they are effectively eliminated.
  4. Magnesium – Magnesium is a mineral and it’s very common to be deficient Your body uses more of it when you’re detoxing and taking magnesium can help if you get stalled out somewhere. Also, magnesium helps encourage healthy bowel movements, muscle relaxation, and sleep. I prefer to take magnesium before bed, but a small dose in the morning if you feel like you’re detoxing can be helpful too.
  5. Antioxidants – When your body is doing a lot of extra work, it is also creating a lot of extra free radicals and detoxification is no exception. Also, with MTHFR our master antioxidant, called glutathione, can be compromised so bolstering this system is a good idea. I’m not married to any one antioxidant and actually I prefer to rotate through different ones because each has an affinity for different tissue types. Essentially when I buy an antioxidant product, I buy something different each time. I’ll go from vitamin C, to vitamin E, to something like resveratrol, to a mixed product. The more coverage, the better. We talked a lot about antioxidants and glutathione in Season 1, Episode 14 and if you need a refresher, that’s a good place to start.
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What to Expect When You’re Starting Methylfolate

If you’ve already:

  • Taken folic acid out of your diet
  • Added in natural folate
  • Started a multivitamin or B complex without folate or B12 

And you’re tolerating these changes well, then you’re at the point where you might consider adding some extra 5-LMTHF. We talked about it in a whole post here. As a quick recap, you can expect one of three big reactions.

  1. This is the miracle of miracles.
  2. This started really great and went south.
  3. This is a nightmare.

No matter which of those big reactions you fall under, there can still be a bit of an adjustment when you’re starting. I couldn’t describe my adjustment reaction to you in any way other than to say that my brain felt “weird.” It wasn’t awful, it was just not normal. If it is awful, then stop dosing and read the above post to find out your immediate steps. Here, I want to talk about longer-term expectations and what you might see.

Good Days and Bad Days

As you continue for longer periods on your MTHFR journey, the good days and bad days smooth out and things get a lot more regular and predictable. In the beginning, though, your body is still struggling out of its own personal sand pit and so you’re a little more susceptible to ups and downs. This is normal and expected and gets so much better over time. Just be gentle with yourself and on days when you’re feeling a little yucky, add in some great self-care. That could be scheduling a little nap or some outdoor time, it could be a hot bath or taking 5 minutes to meditate. It could be sitting and staring at a wall for 15 minutes, unplugging, or even watching funny videos during a break to get your dose of laughter. Just be extra gentle with yourself and take some extra care. Your body is working hard and some days it needs extra love and support.

Starting methylfolate can be rough, but things smooth out with time.

Detox Symptoms

One of the biggest processes that is happening with appropriate methylation support is detoxification. This is great news and we want it to happen, but if detox is happening too quickly, then it can feel crappy. Like, really crappy. Detoxing too quickly looks like:

  • brain fog
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • irritability
  • general yuckiness
  • usually it reminds you a lot of a hangover.

This means you’re pushing your body to detoxify, but it’s getting stuck somewhere.  Here is what you should do:

  1. Decrease your dose or take a break from any methylated supplements or methylfolate that you’re taking. Your body needs a break for a minute.
  2. Rest more
  3. Get extra water and some good mineral support (like adding a bit of Himalayan pink salt, lemon juice, or apple cider vinegar to your water).
  4. Do some gentle detox. This could be:
    1. Sweating in a sauna, hot car, hot bath, or wherever else you can sweat.
    2. Hot bath with Epsom salts (for the sweat, and the magnesium)
    3. Castor oil pack
    4. Boosting your fiber intake
    5. Taking something to bind to toxins like bentonite clay (food grade), activated charcoal (also food grade), or spirulina.
    6. 24 – 36 hours of fasting.

As an MTHFR mutant, gentle detox is going to be part of your life, so it really helps to familiarize yourself with your body’s toxic signals. My first one is always irritability – it’s a sure sign that I’m pushing too hard.

Learn Your Boundaries

I feel like one of the biggest and most important factors to really taking care of your body as an MTHFR mutant, is to learn to understand your body’s tolerances and limits. None of us like the word “limits” it implies that we aren’t superhuman, that we have to stop some time or take breaks. It *almost* sounds like a weakness. We have got to change that idea, and fast. Understanding and listening to your body if it is approaching a threshold helps you to avoid the big fallout times, the horrible days, the emotional days, the exhausted days (or weeks), the brain-foggy-can’t-focus days. Believe me, without those, your potential skyrockets and it’s like you’re launched to the next level of life as a human, both personally and in your professional or creative life. This is a lot like learning the subtle language of your body so that you can stop problems before they start.

The best way I know of to start this process is to use a symptom tracker – maybe even daily. Rank symptoms and also traits from 1 – 10 every day and after a while, patterns will pop out at you. Like I said above, if my irritability starts to rise I know to add in some extra detox. If I don’t do that, then I can expect 2 – 3 days of headaches, irritability, brain fog, and general misery. Believe me – it’s better to just make time for that hot bath and convert those to good days.

Likewise, if I start feeling my stress-levels ratchet up, or my level of work-obsession rise, then for me that is a signal that I need more methylfolate, more antioxidants, and more exercise. A couple of days of that will right the balance and put everything into perspective again.

My signals are probably going to be different from your signals, but by using a symptom tracker you will start to see those repeating patterns and can use them to develop coping strategies to keep most days as good days.

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