MTHFR could be messing with your mind. No, we’re not talking about some kind of texting shorthand for an obscenity that you might exclaim in your darkest moment. MTHFR is the gene that makes methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, an enzyme important to processing amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. A faulty MTHFR could be the real impediment for your battle with depression.
MTHFR variations are thought to increase the risk of a host of physical disorders (from cardiovascular disease and migraines to some cancers). But mutations of the gene are also linked to mental health issues, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.
Maybe it's not the utter hopelessness in a world rent by oppression and injustice that is the culprit for the blues.
How MTHFR Works
Without going into complex scientific discourse, here is how the gene could be impacting your mind:
MTHFR is responsible for the production of an enzyme which helps convert the amino acid homocysteine to methionine. This process is essential to the body’s (including your brain) growth and repair.
“The body then uses methionine to make proteins and other important compounds, including neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine),” according to Traci Stein, Ph.D., M.P.H., writing for PsychologyToday.com. “These brain chemicals are essential for a number of aspects of mental health; thus, when this process is impaired, it can increase the likelihood of [mental health issues]. ”
Given MTHFR’s essential role in the body’s function, maintenance and repair, mutations in the gene can also interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications, including antidepressants and certain chemotherapy drugs.
And while you can treat or manage a genetic disorder, unfortunately, you can’t cure most faulty genes. But the good news is that incorporating certain foods into your diet (more below) may help dissipate the cloudy veil of depression.
Who Should Get Tested for Faulty MTHFR
Can’t beat the blues — even with antidepressants? Any family members have a history of depression? MTHFR variations can be detected with a genetic test.
“This area of personalized medicine, genetic testing and nutrigenomics is new, and more research is needed. But it’s clear that it’s also an exciting way of looking at disease that’s worth exploring,” writes Mark Hyman, M.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and author of “The UltraMind Solution, Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First.”
Some argue that widespread testing is too costly, says Monya De, M.D., M.P.H., a physician of internal and integrative medicine. Dr. De notes, however, that there are relatively inexpensive testing services like that provided by 23andMe, which offers a $199 mail-in DNA kit, as well as the government’s Precision Medicine Initiative.
Mutated MTHFR? Eat Your Vegetables!
So now that you’ve got mutated genes to worry about — no, that doesn’t make you a member of the X-Men — you might be wondering how to treat MTHFR variants.
Discuss options with your doctor who may suggest treating your particular brand of depression with, in part, vitamin supplements, including a methylated form of B-12 known as methylcobalamin, and a diet rich in folates, including leafy greens, broccoli, lentils and beans, according to Dr. Stein.
Dr. Hyman describes treating a patient with debilitating dementia with healthy foods, herbs and nutrients like kale, watercress, cilantro, milk thistle, selenium and zinc. Also, high doses of folate were included in the treatment to help lower his homocysteine. So what happened to this patient's mind on nutrients?
“Well, after a year of aggressive therapy that was matched to his particular imbalances, genes and causes of his symptoms — not his diagnosis — he had a remarkable and dramatic recovery.” The patient’s dementia had been so bad previously that he wasn’t able to manage his business and his grandchildren would avoid him altogether, but treatment allowed him to function again and repair his relationships, according to Dr. Hyman.
Dr. De also cites “some intriguing work” in which patients with depression treated with B vitamins (also including folate) did better than those given placebos. Yet another example how you can feed your happiness.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you had difficulty treating depression? Do you think a genetic mutation may be the answer? Have you been tested by one of the DNA testing companies? If so, how was the experience?