It is easy to check your genetic results on 23andMe or AncestryDNA for the two main MTHFR variants known as C677T and A1298C.
If you have 23andMe results (it doesn’t matter if you have the health option or not!), click on the link below to check your MTHFR gene. If you have AncestryDNA results, you will need to download your raw data file and search for the rs id number below. (How to download AncestryDNA and Search)
Check your genetic data for rs1801133 (23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):
Check your genetic data for rs1801131 (23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):
*Given in the forward orientation to match your genetic data
There is a lot of swirl on the internet about MTHFR — with people thinking the “MTHFR mutation” is the cause of everything under the sun. This seems to have caused a backlash with doctors claiming that MTHFR variants are completely unimportant.
Let’s cut through the hype, and I’ll explain the science. At the end of the article you will find solid, evidence-based lifestyle solutions for optimizing for the MTHFR variants.
Methylation is the adding and removing of a methyl group (CH3) to amino acids, DNA, and other enzymes or proteins.
Most of our the molecules in our body are chains of hydrocarbons — carbons plus hydrogens. So adding a methyl group stacks on one more link in a hydrocarbon chain. Sometimes it helps to visualize it as the molecule being made of Legos, and the methyl group is just adding another Lego component onto your creation.
Adding a methyl group – or an extra carbon plus three hydrogens – then changes the original molecule into something different.
Here’s an example: a methyl group is added to neurotransmitter serotonin in the conversion to melatonin, a circadian rhythm hormone.
Methylation can turn on and off genes, maintain and repair your DNA, and alter proteins. It is important in the nervous system in the production and breakdown of neurotransmitters and in the detoxification of some environmental toxicants.
The methylation cycle is also intimately involved in heart health. It controls the level of homocysteine, an important marker of heart disease risk. It is also involved in cholesterol levels.[ref ] Genetic variants in the methylation pathway have been linked to heart disease in many studies.
Additionally, the pathway is involved in regulating hormones, such as estrogen, as well as playing a role in histamine levels.
Genetic variants can change how well a piece of the methylation pathway works. Knowing where you have genetic variations can help you understand what you need to do to get around the slow-downs in the methylation pathway.
MTHFR is a central gene in the methylation cycle and is a limiting factor for producing methyl groups from folate. Common genetic variants in the coding of this gene affect more than half the population.
Specifically, the MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) gene codes for an enzyme that turns folate into the active form, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, that your body uses. This, along with the active form of vitamin B-12 (methylcobalamin), drives an important portion of the methylation cycle.
The MTHFR genetic variants (C677T and A1298C) have been linked to an increased risk of:
Carrying an MTHFR variant is statistically associated with an increase in the risk of the above diseases (and others!), but this does not mean that it will cause you to have that disease. It just increases the susceptibility to diseases when diet and lifestyle factors are not optimal.
More importantly, food choices or supplemental methyl folate can eliminate the problems from the MTHFR variants.
The MTHFR variants cause a reduction in methylfolate levels.
The MTHFR C677T is a change in one nucleotide base (a “T” instead of a “C”) at one spot in the gene. The variant slightly changes the protein structure. This change causes the enzyme to break down faster at normal body temperature, thus reducing the amount of enzyme available. [ref ][ref ][ref ]
People with the rs1801133 A/A genotype have the greatest impact. They have about a 70% reduction in the enzyme function.
The very extensive research (it’s one of the most researched genes) shows that MTHFR variants are linked to an increased risk for the disorders listed above, as well as a bunch of other diseases.
While a MTHFR variant can play a role in different chronic diseases, it usually isn’t the absolute cause for most diseases.
When patients are flooding into the doctor’s office to demand treatment for ”having the MTHFR gene”, the automatic backlash is to say that MTHFR variants aren’t important. (Side note- everyone has the MTHFR gene. It’s one of those genes you can’t live without.)
Most physicians are trained to treat diseases (or the symptoms of a disease) rather than to hunt down all of the various aspects of lifestyle, diet, and environment that could be contributing to the disease. They simply don’t have the time in a 10-minute visit to discuss the nuances of diet, genetics, toxicant exposure, etc. To be fair, most people going to a doctor with an ailment expect to get a simple answer or pill that solves the problem immediately.
There are extensive studies showing a link between MTHFR C677Y and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. A meta-study that combined other study results showed that the MTHFR 677 A/A genotype increased the risk of heart disease by 38%.[ref ] With heart disease being the number one killer in most countries, a 38% increase in risk is important.
Overall, optimizing your methylation cycle can be important to your health (especially heart health). It is definitely a foundational first step; perhaps it will keep you from getting an illness that sends you to the doctor’s office.
Knowing that you carry a MTHFR genetic variant can help guide your choice of foods and supplements.
Increasing your intake of folate from foods will help mitigate some of the risks from the MTHFR variant. Foods containing folate include leafy greens, lentils, asparagus, and broccoli. Note that when you are looking at folate content, you need to make sure it isn’t folic acid (synthetic form in processed foods) if you have methylation cycle variations. Here is a good list of food sources of folate.
Choline can help your body bypass a lack of folate in the methylation cycle.[ref ][ref ] Good sources of choline include egg yolks, beef liver, and wheat germ. A metabolite of choline, betaine, is actually what is working through the methylation cycle, therefore food sources of betaine (beets, quinoa, and spinach) are also helpful here.
Supplemental Methyl Folate and B12:
If you aren’t getting enough folate from foods, you could try a low-dose methyl folate supplement. Vitamin B12 is also important in the methylation cycle, so you need to ensure you are getting enough B12 either through diet or supplements.
Riboflavin (vitamin B2):
The MTHFR C677T variant decreases its ability to bind to FAD, a riboflavin-dependent enzyme.[ref] If you have high homocysteine (a marker for heart disease risk), a couple of studies show that adding riboflavin lowers homocysteine levels in those with the A/A genotype. [ref][ref] Other research points to riboflavin lowering homocysteine levels only if vitamin B6 levels are adequate.[ref]
Check your homocysteine levels:
High homocysteine levels increase the risk of heart disease. Methyl folate plus B12 and B6 may help reduce your homocysteine.[ref ] Ask your doctor about getting your homocysteine checked the next time you or there for a physical. Alternatively, in the US, you can order this test online without a trip to the doctor through UltaLabs for $34 (*affiliate link) or other online testing providers.
More to read about methylation cycle variants:
Originally published 2/2015