Find Your MTHFR Red Flags – MTHFR Basics

Part of successfully working with any health issue is knowing when you’re moving in the right direction and when you aren’t. Oddly, it’s trickier then you might think – especially with MTHFR and methylation issues.

Why Are We Even Talking About This? Of Course I Know When I’m Getting Healthier.

Here’s the thing. Most conditions have clear symptoms that are similar for most people and obvious when they happen. If you get migraines, you often know when you’re going to have a migraine (by aura or by repeating pattern – say association with hormone cycles or weather), you CERTAINLY know when you have a migraine, and you know when it’s gone. You can track the number of migraines per month and it’s all pretty easy to tell when it’s getting better or getting worse.

MTHFR is not so cut and dry, partly because it looks very different in everyone who has the polymorphism, and partly because some of the indicators that your methylation is getting out of control are things that we normally consider to be either positive traits, or personality traits.

Do you really know which direction you’re headed today?

There Are So Many Ways To Experience MTHFR

Within my clients, I can honestly say that no two MTHFR folks have the same spectrum of symptoms, although often I see repeating patterns. Also, it’s hard to predict which symptoms will change as a person moves toward health. This is why symptom trackers are so important. Questions about progress can be very vague, but if you’re tracking your symptoms regularly then you can begin to see a pattern that might not have been noticeable before.

How To Use A Symptom Tracker

Symptom trackers are simple charts where you can record a list of your symptoms, then track them on a scale from 1 – 10 each week (or each day if you’re a geek for tracking like I am). These aren’t complicated, but they are a super valuable life hack. The complicated part, is knowing what to include on your chart. If you’d like a free .pdf version of the symptom tracker I use, just sign up for the mailing list below the article or in the sidebar and you’ll get the free download.

What Symptoms To Include:

With MTHFR there are four big categories of symptoms to include on your tracker.

Knowing which symptoms to track is half the battle.
  1. Obvious symptoms that are troublesome to your health, happiness, or mental wellbeing. These are the ones everyone thinks of – like headaches, joint pain, sleep disturbance, nausea, eye twitch, hormonal issues, whatever.
  2. Symptoms from within your Basic State group. If you aren’t sure what I mean by Basic State group, follow the link to the article and see where you fit in. If you’re an undermethylator you will notice a list of signs and symptoms and personality traits that might be related. Anything you see on that list that applies to you, also write in your symptom tracker. If you’re methylation neutral, then write any symptoms that you experience from either side of the list.
  3. Warning signs of imbalance from your Basic State group. This can be tricky, because most of us really love the positive traits from our basic state, but with MTHFR even positive traits come with hidden issues. Overmethylators, like myself, are highly creative and that is a huge gift and one that I prize above all others in myself, but it can also be a sign that I’m moving toward unhealth. When my creativity is flowing to the point that I’m skipping meals, or not interacting with my family, or forgetting to sleep… That feels amazing to me, but is actually one of my early warning signs that I’m not in balance. Undermethylators are the overachievers, the doers, the pushers. And that also is a tremendous gift, but it can have the same manic effect on work, can lead to burnout or obsessive perfectionism and even things like anorexia. Initially these are positive traits and most poeple don’t ever mark them on a symptom tracker, but they can also act as early warning signs of trouble to come, so if you’re willing to work yourself like a slave for that next promotion, ask yourself carefully whether that should be on the symptom tracker. These are almost the most important MTHFR red flags because they’re often the earliest warnings – the canary in the coal mine.
  4. Measurable states. This is another rather obvious one, but anything that is reasonably easy to measure at home, like weight, blood pressure, heart rate or number of incidents of whatever thing you might experience (muscle twitches, or heart palpitations, stabbing pains, episodes of brain fog, whatever.) Also, for women, tracking hormone cycles and their associated symptoms. Over longer periods of time, we can also use lab data from blood tests like homocysteine levels and that sort of thing.

Why Does This Matter?

The thing that I find most helpful about this exercise is that many of my clients (along with myself) will find some very immediate symptoms that they can use to notice on a day-to-day level whether they’re in a good place, or not. If you’re just tracking things like joint pain, which has day-to-day fluctuations but generally changes reasonably slowly, then it can be hard to tell when you’re on track for you and when you aren’t. Likewise, with hormones or even energy level. If your average energy level is 2/10 and you’re making good progress, it’s still not likely to be an 8/10 by the end of the month. You need something more immediate than that to know when you’re moving toward health and when you’re moving toward disease.

Stop your problems when they’re molehills, not when they become mountains, by understanding your early warning signs.

Knowing Day-to-day Whether You’re Moving Toward Health Allows You To React Quickly To Changes

If you don’t recognize your MTHFR red flags, you don’t know you’re off-track, so you aren’t going to take steps to get back on-track. It’s as simple as that. If you have something you can look at day-to day or even week-to-week then you can catch problems before they turn into really big problems like that migraine we mentioned earlier. Also, this gives you great ways to check in with your own health and give yourself breaks, or exercise, or extra sleep or a little bit of detox when you’re showing your earliest warning signs. This keeps you moving toward health, constantly.

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Health Problems Linked to MTHFR mutations

Mutation Sounds So Serious and Certain – Can I Change This?

I use the term “mutations” or “mutant” mostly because I like them. MUTANT sounds so very X-men and god knows I’m a sci-fi geek. Technically, the correct term is “polymorphisms,” which is less dramatic and doesn’t imply eyeball laser beams. Polymorphisms are simply small differences – one letter substitutions – in a gene. SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, pronounced “snip”) are part of the wonderful and astounding variability of human genetics.

SNPs or single nucleotide polymorphisms are essentially a letter substitution in your genetic story. Like the difference between “Tom is tall” and “Tom is fall”. This is why there are health problems associated with MTHFR mutations.

According to the National Institute of Health, SNPs occur in our DNA almost once per 1,000 nucleotides. Since we have over 3 billion nucleotides (or base pairs) in the human genome, this means the average person has somewhere in the neighborhood of 4-5 million SNPs. That’s a LOT of “mutations.”

The vast majority of SNPs don’t have any impact at all, but as we discussed here, some do. I am, of course, referring to the magic chair that is the MTHFR enzyme.

Health Problems Are Linked to some MTHFR SNPs Because They Change the “Magic Chair.”

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out last week’s post here. The basic idea is that the MTHFR polymorphisms C677T and A1298C are actually consequential because they change the shape, and therefore the function, of the MTHFR enzyme in one of the most important chemical pathways in our body, the methylation pathway.

MTHFR mutations that matter are A1298C and C677T

Quick and Dirty List of Health Problems Linked to MTHFR

These health issues have been linked to MTHFR in at least one high-quality study (a great database of relevant studies is here for C677T and here for A1298C):

  • Midline Abnormalities: neural tube defects, anencephaly, spina bifida, cleft palate, cleft lip, tongue-tie, facial asymmetries.
  • Cancer: including breast, lung, brain, stomach, head and neck, thyroid, bladder, leukemia, and kidney.
  • Cardiac disease: including thrombosis (increased tendency to clot), deep vein thrombosis, high homocysteine levels, pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure in and around pregnancy), vascular dementia, glaucoma, heart murmurs, stroke, pulmonary embolism.
  • Fertility issues: including miscarriages or multiple pregnancy loss, placental abruption, low sperm count, history of children with birth defects.
  • Neurological issues: including migraines, autism, ADD/ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s dementia.
  • Mood and Psychological issues: including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive traits or tendencies, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Also, reduced reactions to certain medications like SSRIs for depression, and increased tendency toward addictions.
  • Miscellaneous Conditions: including chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and numerous autoimmune disorders.

Symptoms That Could Be Linked to MTHFR

Outside of the slightly scary list of diagnosable illnesses and health problems linked to MTHFR, there are also a number of symptoms that are highly associated, but don’t really warrant a diagnosis (at least not until they reach an unmanageable level). These include:

  • Brain fog
  • Irritability
  • Obsessiveness
  • Workaholism
  • Sleep Issues
  • PMS
  • Difficult menopause
  • Food sensitivities
  • Chemical sensitivities
  • High levels of seasonal allergies
  • Attention issues
  • Anger and aggression
  • Gallbladder sludge and stones
  • Heart racing
  • Depression
  • Edginess
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Moodiness
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Itching skin
  • Obesity or easy weight gain
  • Carb and sugar cravings
  • Sweating
  • Feeling “not right”
  • Addictive tendencies

Does Having MTHFR Mutations Mean I Have These Issues?

Nope. Just like having these issues doesn’t mean you have an MTHFR mutation.

So… What Does It Mean?

It means if you have any of these issues (which, honestly, most people do have at least one), then managing your MTHFR and methylation cycle in a proactive way can help you feel better, reduce your symptoms, reduce sensitivities, and hopefully prevent MTHFR-related disease in the long-term.

What IS This Witchcraft?

It’s called “epigenetics” and it is a field that has emerged in the last couple of decades as we learned how many genes really are actionable. Epigenetics is the study of the way diet, lifestyle, nutritional status, drug use, chemical exposure, self-care, and external factors influence the expression of your genes.

This video explains epigenenetics and also gives a bonus introduction to why the methylation pathway is so important to gene expression (do you see all those methyl groups?!?)

Help! I’m Drowning in MTHFR Doom!!

It can feel a little bit overwhelming – especially if you’re like me and can listen to the giant list of symptoms and find more than five that match up with issues you have in your own life. The good news is that YOU CAN TAKE CONTROL. You hav e the power, thanks to epigenetics, to change your state of health and the severity of these symptoms. Also, here’s some great news:

MTHFR Superpower – Speed and Strength!

It’s no eyeball laser beams, but it’s a start. It has been suggested that DNA undermethylation in MTHFR folks induces muscle growth. A recent study of Russian and Polish athletes found an athletic advantage in sprint-strength type activities for the A1298C polymorphs. Mutants, Unite!

Next week we’ll talk about MTHFR testing options, what the results actually mean. and who should test? Subscribe, so you don’t miss any episodes and pass it on to your grumpy, obsessive, workaholic friends because maybe they’re mutants too…

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