I know this sounds like a bit of an odd question – the goal is to get healthy, right? And yes, of course it is. But sometimes people have mistaken ideas about health goals, so I think it deserves a little bit of a conversation.
First off, What Concrete Goals Are We Looking For?
This is actually pretty simple.
- Normalize lab values like homocysteine, B12 and folate levels.
- Feel reliably better
- Minimize the risk of chronic illness both related to and unrelated to MTHFR.
Simple, right? Except that we are a society used to taking a pill to fix things and then eventually being done with that pill. That is where we get into trouble with MTHFR.
MTHFR Is For Life
This isn’t a get balanced and then go back to ignoring it kind of problem. MTHFR is a genetic difference. It has always been with you and it will always be with you. There is no quick fix for that. I believe we can achieve the goals above – get your basic numbers back in line, get you feeling great, and reduce your risk down the road. Absolutely all of that is possible, but it is also ongoing.
Your body and your health are dynamic. You respond to changes in diet, in stress level, in weather, in close relationships, in sleep quality in very real ways that might be easy to perceive or might be hidden. Still, every one of those factors and hundreds of others besides add up to your total state of health on any given day or in every moment. Essentially, it’s a lot of moving pieces and in any day there could be hundreds of small factors that determine how your body functions. That is a lot.
For example. Say you get up in the morning, have an extra coffee because your dog/cat/spouse/hookup decided they wanted to sleep on your pillow. You grab a whole grain bagel with cream cheese and run out of your door, only to get stuck behind the slowest driver on the face of the planet. You can feel your blood pressure escalating and you try to take a few deep breaths so that you don’t just run into the back of their car four or five times to vent some spleen. When you get to work your boss pulls you aside and thanks your for the amazing job you’ve done on your latest project. Nice! After work you go to the gym but the parking lot is full and you end up driving around for 15 minutes before you decide you’re too tired anyway and head home…
This day is filled with pretty normal things:
- not ideal sleep
- extra coffee
- food choices
- rush and stress
- frustration and maybe a bit of road rage
- surprise good news
- sedentary lifestyle
Plus, there were all the things you weren’t aware of that your body was dealing with – that tiny little pocket of inflammation in your arteries, the virus that has been lurking around the office causing your immune system to ramp up, the low-pressure system that is floating in, the minor vitamin C deficiency you never knew you had, and the lingering emotional stress that comes from a strained relationship with auntie Mabel. Add to all of that your hundreds to thousands of polymorphisms.
Every one of those seemingly tiny factors affects your physical state of health in some way. We all know the emotional impact, of course, but physically every one of those factors affects your cortisol and sex hormone levels, inflammation, metabolic pathways, neurotransmitters, parasympathetic functions like digestion, and gut flora. Every small thing ripples out into the much larger picture of who you are and how your body feels and functions. Frankly, it’s a wonder any of us can get out of bed in the morning.
Outside of Goals, What Is The Actual Aim?
This, to me, is a whole different thing. The goals are tangible. We can check them off of a list and be done. The aim, is perhaps a bit softer than that. In my opinion, the aim of working with your MTHFR and your methylation pathway is about reaching potential. Every human has strengths and weaknesses, we all have ups and downs and as far as I can tell, that is the crux of being human. I know precisely zero people who have perfect states of being. We just have to slog through the mud sometimes. So my aims in my own MTHFR journey, and for you as well are:
- Live up to our potential as flawed humans. This isn’t about being superman or superwoman. It’s not about being a TV character – glossy and perfect. I actually think fostering the idea that we CAN be that is damaging. This is about feeling well, have a positive impact on the people around us, and feeling like we’ve done something worthwhile.
- Maximize health for whatever years we have. Nobody, even with a perfect diet and self-care, can actually predict what their health is going to be like throughout their life. People with perfect diets get cancer too. We can work to make it better than it might have been, but that doesn’t mean we’ll all be blessed by the perfect health fairy. It doesn’t work like that. When we reach the end, I want us all to be able to look back and know we cherished ourselves and treated our bodies like they mattered.
- Have more good days than bad days. Of course, we want good days – lots of them. But it is also important to live into the bad ones and not be discouraged by them. This means continuing to develop a toolkit of coping strategies for the not-great days.
The point is that aiming for “perfect” is misguided. People reach for it in health, looking for a meaningless continuity of perfect days. Culturally we reach for it in goal setting, and self-perfect and it becomes both unattainable and deeply damaging. There is no perfect. Ever. Embracing that is freeing. What there is, is BETTER.
Thanks for listening this week – don’t forget to rate me on your favorite podcasting app, and tune in next week for some gentle detox strategies, because god knows we MTHFR folks need them.