I need to start by saying that I’m not a medical professional, and the information I share in this article is not a substitute for medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional. The information I share is for general information only. Please consult your health care provider for any medical advice. This article contains an affiliate link.
I first heard of MTHFR sitting in my perinatologist’s office. My husband and I had gone through our second miscarriage, and my OB sent us to for additional blood work. While we discovered my miscarriages were likely caused by my inability to maintain progesterone levels in early pregnancy, the doctors also discovered a number of other underlying genetic conditions – one of which was an MTHFR mutation.
I know. It’s a weird abbreviation, but it stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase and it’s a pretty important process.
“The MTHFR gene creates an enzyme necessary for processing amino acids, specifically, this enzyme converts a molecule called 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate to a molecule called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate.”
You might have caught a part of that word you recognize – folate. MTHFR is necessary for our bodies to turn folate (vitamin B9) in our food into methylfolate used for a number of important processes.
MTHFR mutations and pregnancy are often spoken of together – the primary concern being that the mother’s body doesn’t have the necessary enzyme to process folate and pass that key nutrient onto her baby. From BabyCenter.com, “Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) – serious birth defects of the spinal cord (such as spina bifida) and the brain (such as anencephaly). The neural tube is the part of the embryo from which your baby’s spine and brain develop. NTDs affect about 3,000 pregnancies a year in the United States.”
It was during my pregnancy that I discovered, learned about, and treated my body for the effects of the MTHFR mutation.
But it wasn’t until about a year after my youngest child was born that I went on to do my own research about how an MTHFR mutation might affect my own body. What I found helped me make sense of an issue I had faced my entire life – anxiety.
Some background… While I remember feeling anxious even as a young child, I wouldn’t say that I have ever experienced crippling episodes. I have always just been a little nervous. I thought it was just who I was. But there is a link between a MTHFR mutation and anxiety that I didn’t discover until recently.
So here’s how this works.
The gene MTHFR allows our bodies to turn the folate in our food into methylfolate. Methylfolate enables our bodies to convert the amino acid homocysteine to another amino acid, methionine. The body then uses methionine to make proteins and other important compounds, including neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine). And serotonin is super important to mental health.
So, I know you’re intelligent, and able to follow along, but just in case all of these ridiculous words and chemical processes are confusing, here’s a breakdown.
1.) MTHFR produces the enzyme needed to turn folate in food into a form of the vitamin our bodies use – methylfolate
2.) Methylfolate helps our bodies convert the amino acid hymocysteine to another amino acid methionine.
3.) Our bodies then use methionine to make compounds like serotonin.
It’s a long process, but when I followed the trail, I realized that my body’s inability to properly process folate actually contributed to the anxiety I experienced all of my life. Crazily, one study suggests that up to 40% of the population has some form of MTHFR mutation.
The good news for me was when I discovered that there are companies that make daily vitamins with methylfolate in them. This means that this nutrient doesn’t need to be converted by my body. It is already in the form my body can absorb. They call vitamins like these bioavailable nutrients. (That’s just a fun bonus fact.)
The Honest Company is just one of many vitamin suppliers that has methylfolate in their vitamins.
Because we’re all friends here, I needed to share my story. It was a connection I wish someone had pointed out to me years ago. Maybe you know someone who suffers from anxiety too? Maybe it’s you? You can read more about my thoughts on Christian women and anxiety here.
And if you suffer from anxiety, I might not be able to offer any medical advice, but I can pray for you.
The truth is, while I was able help myself by taking an appropriate vitamin, I still occasionally suffered from anxiety. I didn’t even recognize some of my behaviors as anxiety… Things like feeling as though everything was too big. Like there was too much to do, and I’d never get it done, but not wanting to do any of it. I wanted to pretend like I hadn’t gotten the text message or email. I wanted to avoid projects that seemed to hard. And often everything felt like too much.
But after an experience in a church service just a few weeks ago, I am experiencing a new level of freedom from anxiety that I hadn’t ever before. I shared that on my Facebook Page here. I’d love to share the rest of the story and pray for you below. (Skip to minute 8:30)