Understanding your risk factors for certain health problems used to center on your lifestyle and family medical history. And that’s still vital information. But there’s another piece of the puzzle that’s starting to come together: our unique genetic code. And the future of maintaining good health will likely involve learning more about our genes and genetic mutations. One of those we’re learning more about, for example, is the MTHFR gene. Here’s what’s been discovered and how it could affect you:
What is MTHFR?
MTHFR is a gene that provides your body with directions for making a protein that is involved in processing folic acid (also known as vitamin B9). People with MTHFR mutations are less efficient at breaking down folic acid and turning it into active folate.
Note: Folate occurs naturally, and folic acid is the synthetic version of the vitamin.
How common are MTHFR mutations and related risks?
According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately one third of Americans (33%) have one copy of common MTHFR gene mutations like C677T or A1298C. This alone isn’t usually cause for alarm. But individuals with two C677T mutations (around 11% of us) and people with both a C677T and A1298C mutation are at greater risk for heart disease, blood clots and stroke. In fact, research shows having two C677T gene mutations increases your odds of heart problems 16% higher than folks who don’t have them.
Are there other health concerns related to MTHFR mutations?
Because MTHFR mutations affect the body’s ability to process folic acid and B12 vitamins, among other things, it has been linked to other health problems, including pregnancy complications, birth defects, glaucoma, depression, anxiety and even cancer.
What you can do:
If you have a family history of blood clots or heart disease, then talk to your doctor about the genetic test for MTHFR. The same goes if you are pregnant or have had difficulty getting pregnant. For those with MTHFR mutations, getting active forms of folate (called methylfolate) and B12 vitamins is important. When buying supplements, look for folate and avoid synthetic folic acid. For B12, look for methylcobalamin. The “methyl” is key because it means the vitamin is in its fully active form. Food sources of folate include broccoli, dark leafy greens, dried legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans. Food sources of B12 include red meat, fish and eggs. Vegetarians with MTHFR mutations should take extra care in getting the right forms of B12.
Tips for getting in tip-top shape!
What steps are you taking to safeguard your heart and overall health? Check out our Healthy Lifestyle Tips Pinterest page for ideas.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health – nlm.nih.gov