People with the MTHFR polymorphism often have a more challenging time detoxifying and eliminating chemicals, and so we’re always on the hunt for clean, natural skincare that we don’t have to make ourselves (not that I don’t love whipping up a batch of body butter now and then).
In the MTHFR for Life course, we talk a lot about making your home and life cleaner, and clean skincare is a huge part of that because we actually absorb as much through our skin as we do through our stomach lining, but things absorbed by the skin don’t go directly to the liver to be detoxified, they make a round through your bloodstream first. So skincare is an important source of chemicals that can largely be eliminated. A big part of the MTHFR lifestyle is clearing all of the unnecessary toxins out of your home and life.
Clean skincare with only 4-5 ingredients that we all recognize is even better. This interview with Renee Harris, founder of MadeOn skincare talks about her journey with her son’s eczema, a farmers market stand, and how the products have evolved since that time.
Renee’s website, hardlotion.com, is a great resource as well for DIY natural products as well as to order her wonderful hard lotion bars, completely delicious avocado facial soap, and other lovely things.
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).
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.
We’ve been talking a lot about natural folate and its food sources vs. synthetic folic acid (which is toxic in high doses.). So in theory, we’ve got it. But in reality, what does this actually look like? Let’s dive in right now.
How Much Folate Are We Talking? Do I Have To Bathe In The Stuff?
Not at all. Although MTHFR folks might need to adjust based on their own responses, generally we’re aiming for the same targets as everyone else. The units are in “dietary folate equivalents” because absorption of folate and folic acid are different. Natural folate is about 50% absorbed and folic acid about 85%. If you want to geek out on it:
1 mcg DFE = 1 mcg natural folate = 0.6 mcg artificial folic acid.
People who regularly drink alcohol: 600 mcg (because alcohol impairs absorption).
Children – from 65 mcg up to 400 mcg at 14 years old.
Food Sources of Natural Folate
Naturally occurring folate is present in lots of the foods you might already eat, and also in some that might be new to you. Here are the 10 foods highest in natural folate according to USDA nutrition data:
Folate per 100g(3.5 oz)
Folate per cup
Peas, soybean sprouts
Roman beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, chickpeas, black beans
Artichokes, beets, okra
Turnip greens, pak choi, collard greens
Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, cauliflower
Marmite (yeast extract)
100 mcg per 8 g serving
Unhelpfully, the makers of Marmite have listed the folate as “folic acid” because the terms are used interchangeably. It is actually natural folate.
With MTHFR Mutation, If You Can Eat Your 400 mcg and Avoid Folic Acid, You’ve Pretty Much Nailed It.
Of course, there are lots of times when it isn’t quite so simple, but this is a nice easy benchmark to strive for. So – What to eat for MTHFR? Lots of beans, veg, and fruit. No problem. The much harder part is what not to eat.
What Not To Eat For MTHFR Folks
There is a small list of fortified foods that have added synthetic folic acid that should be avoided (also, all vitamins and supplements with folic acid). The list is short but impactful. Here it is:
Enriched wheat flour
Enriched corn flour
There – That wasn’t so hard, was it? Except it turns out it is hard because here are all the foods that are made with those two things.
Baking mixes for cakes, cookies, brownies and whatnot.
This is very much where the wheels fall off the cart because, in the West, most people don’t really know how to eat without hefty doses of bread, pasta, crackers, and cereal. It is just how we are used to eating.
What to Eat for MTHFR – Substitutions
With every substitution, be sure to read the label. If folic acid is listed in the ingredients (or fortified or enriched flour), then it’s a no-go. Also, remember that if you’re just buying flour and making it yourself (go you!), then you still have to make sure you get un-enriched flour – usually, this is gluten-free, organic, or specialty.
MTHFR-Safe Substitution (usually. Read your labels.)
Organic cereals (sometimes), oatmeal (sometimes – usually not the instant ones),
Rice noodles, gluten-free noodles, organic pasta (don’t forget, rice and potatoes are still on the menu!)
Rice crackers, rice cakes, Some rye crackers, most organic crackers
Gluten-free cookies, organic cookies.
Organic corn chips, bean chips,
Organic tortillas or sprouted tortillas.
Organic flour, brown rice flour, gluten-free baking mix, wheat alternative flours like buckwheat or sorghum.
You’ve got options!
This Sounds Like a Big Change
It is a big change from the typical Western diet, but it’s a very doable change – especially now when there are so many products designed for people with gluten sensitivities or people looking for organics. Still, it takes some commitment, especially at first, while you’re getting used to your new normal.
Why Do This?
The payoff from this one change can be really significant. Many people report better energy, more stability in moods, reduced brain fog, increased attention, and even better hormone balance. Also, if you’re trying to get pregnant, this sets you up for a healthier pregnancy. That still doesn’t make it easy, but it does make it worth it.
This is The Foundation For a Healthy Life With MTHFR Issues
Many of us MTHFR folks can reduce or resolve any MTHFR related issues just by following this diet. There are a few exceptions.
MTHFR folks with very low serotonin – sometimes these folks can’t tolerate any folate intake and have to avoid folate-rich foods along with fortified foods (although cutting out the fortified foods will make a huge positive difference). We’ll talk about this in detail next week.
Some overmethylators – MTHFR folks with symptoms usually fall into one of two categories. Overmethylators or undermethylators. Undermethylators are more common and usually need higher doses of folate to manage symptoms. Overmethylators are less common and sometimes need very low doses of folate to manage their symptoms. I happen to be an overmethylator but I still eat a very high-folate diet and occasionally supplement so it’s very individual. We will talk more about over- and under- methylators in September.