Last summer, Amy sat across from me in my office wondering if there was really anything that can be done about her son’s learning difficulties.
“It runs in the family,” she said. She told me that her brothers had learning disabilities and ADHD and so did her husband’s family. Amy herself was dyslexic and struggled with anxiety and depression most of her life.
She felt hopeless and said she felt cursed by family genetics. It’s no secret that learning, behaviour and mental health issues run in certain families, but that doesn’t make it the end of the story.
MTHFR, Learning Disabilities, Autism & ADHD
MTHFR, folate and folic acid is a hot topic when it comes to autism spectrum, ADHD, dyslexia, ADHD and so many other health conditions. This is because 98% of individuals with autism spectrum carry the MTHFR gene variant – that means a mutated copy of the MTHFR gene.
While it’s easy to jump on the ‘it’s-genetic-there’s-nothing-we-can-do’ bandwagon – hold up.
The MTHFR gene mutation is not the ‘autism gene’ or the ‘dyslexia and ADHD’ gene. In fact, it is estimated that 35-50% of the population carries a mutated variation of this gene – and we know that 50% of the population is not autistic.
So why does it almost always exist among those with ASD?
The Canary in the Coal Mine
Individuals who carry mutations in the MTHFR gene are basically the canaries in the coal mine. That means that they are sensitive to environmental factors like toxicity.
What is MTHFR?
MTHFR is both a gene and a crucial enzyme in the body that works together. The gene provides the instructions to the body on how to make the enzyme.
So by now you might be wondering – okay what does this gene and folate or folic acid have to do with any of this?
Quite a bit.
Methylation – The Alchemist of Health
Think of the MTHFR gene as a step-by-step instruction manual for a crucial enzyme that converts folate into methyl-folate. Basically, the enzyme makes folate bioavailable by converting it into methyl-folate.
If this conversion doesn’t happen the biochemical process known as methylation cannot happen – which means the body is prevented from performing countless bio-chemical processes that are crucial for optimal health.
→ Gene expression (genes being turned on and off)
→ Brain Development and Brain Chemistry – Spina which is commonly associated with MTHFR gene mutation. Methyl-folate is also needed to build neurotransmitters that are necessary for better focus, cognition, mood and memory.
→ Detoxification – Involves the production of the most powerful anti-oxidant known – glutathione.
→ Creation and repair of DNA as well as creating immune cells which prevent infection and regulate the immune system.
→ Reducing histamine in the body and regulating allergic responses.
→ Managing Stress Hormones – Impaired methylation can activate the fight or flight response and therefore increase the production of stress hormones. this can present as behaviour issues such as aggression. anxiety and irritability and so much more.
→ Reduce inflammation
ADHD & MTHFR
Methyl-folate is needed to make neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine as well as for the creation of cells and for detoxification. Any parent with a child of ADHD knows, imbalances with serotonin and dopamine are identified as factors behind ADHD.
MTHFR or methylation issues can also contribute to issues with memory and cognitive processing which accounts for the higher risk of learning disabilities and dyslexia.
When there are mutations or variations in the MTHFR, countless bio-chemical reactions in the body can make you vulnerable to a lot more than autism.
This is because when there are mutations, functions like immune function and detoxification are compromised.
Where the Trouble Starts
The trouble starts when a mutation in the gene impairs the body’s ability to convert folate into methyl-folate which is the form that is needed by the body.
Conversion of folate into methyl-folate can be compromised by 40-70% depending on how many copies of that gene that a person has received. The two mutations that raise red flags are the C677T and A1298C.
Some people get a double mutation of the same gene from each of their parents (like myself – I have two copies of the A1298C). Other people can get one copy of each type of mutation from their parents (like my daughter) and still others get only one copy of a mutated version but a healthy copy from the other parent (like my husband). I know – we are a science experiment indeed!
Either way this means that detoxification (and many other aspects) can also become impaired by 40-70%.
Low activity of MTHFR means higher levels of homocysteine which significantly increases the risk of everything from birth defects to elevated inflammation and auto-immune conditions. High homocysteine affects glutathione which is an antioxidant and is necessary to detoxify.
Signs that Your Child Might Have the MTHFR Mutations
- ADHD & ASD
- Memory and Learning difficulties
- Digestive problems
- Allergies, eczema, asthma
- Behavioural and moodiness issues
- Autoimmune conditions
- Anxiety & depression
- Multiple chemical sensitivity
- Learning difficulties
- Frequently sick, poor immunity OR almost never sick (immune system is on hyper alert)
- Tongue and lip ties as well as cleft palate
- Sensitive to scents and chemicals (due to poor detoxification)
- Food sensitivities or sensitive to preservatives and food colouring
- Sensitive to medications, supplements, vaccines
Family history of:
- ADHD, Autism
- Depression and Anxiety
- Autoimmune conditions
- Heart attack and stroke
- Infertility & miscarriage
- Spina bifida & neural tube defects
- Schizophrenia, bipolar
What You Need to Know About Folic Acid
What everybody needs to know is that folic acid is the synthetic version of the much needed B vitamin, folate. When you are pregnant, chances are you read and were told by almost everyone that you need to take folic acid. Wrong! You need to take folate.
If you carry the MTHFR gene, folic acid is toxic. The MTHFR makes it near impossible for the body to convert folic acid into folate.
I tell every pregnant mother not to take the chance. Good quality pre-natal supplements contain folate not the synthetic folic acid.
MTHFR & Toxicity
The MTHFR not only hinders the body’s ability to convert, process and detox folic acid, it can have this same effect on other toxins such as heavy metals. This is one of the reasons why it so common for children with ASD, ADHD and LD to test high for toxins like heavy metals, pesticides and other contaminants.
What Can I Do if I Suspect a Variation in the MTHFR Gene?
1) Avoid Folic Acid
Avoid folic acid both in supplement form as well as steer clear of processed foods since many are fortified with folic acid. Many grains like breads, cereals and pastas as well as products like orange juice are fortified with folic acid. Only take supplements and B-Complex that contains folate or methyl-folate. Read all supplement labels.
2) Eat Food Rich in Folate
Load up on folate rich foods such as dark leafy greens, romaine lettuce, sprouted legumes, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, chicken liver, sunflower seeds, pasture raised eggs, raspberries and strawberries.
3) Avoid Chemicals and Toxins
Limit your child’s exposure to toxins. Avoid household chemical cleaning products which can inhibit methylation. The same is true for bathroom and scented products like plugins and scented candles as well as pesticides.
4) Detox the Body
Supporting the body’s ability to detoxify is of upmost importance with an MTHFR mutation. Drinking plenty of filtered water with lemon, saunas, Epsom salt baths, baths with bentonite clay, dry skin brushing, exercise, foot soaks or ionized foot baths are all excellent ways to open the detoxification pathways.
5) Gut Health
You know by now that gut health is the pinnacle of brain and body health. The gut can only absorb as many nutrients as it is able in it’s current state of health. 70% of the immune system is in the gut and the gut lining acts as a barrier to ensure that toxins and pathogens leave the body instead of being absorbed into the blood stream. A gut healing diet Paleo diet with ferments, sprouts and bone broth is key.
6) Avoid Processed Food
Not only is processed food likely to contain synthetic folic acid – it is also is laden with preservatives, additives and so much more.
7) Experiment with Eliminating Inflammatory Foods
Gluten, dairy and corn are highly inflammatory and as you know the MTFHR can already create issues with elevated inflammation. The key is to reduce inflammation levels through diet. Many individuals with the MTHFR see big improvements with a gluten and dairy free diet.
8) Avoid Heavy Metals
Be careful of many types of fish which are toxic in heavy metals. If your child has mercury fillings, have them removed by a biological/holistic dentist. This should not be done by a regular dentist. When mercury is removed in the standard way – it can cause worse toxicity because now it is not contained. Cilantro is helpful in removing heavy metals from the body. Consider seeing a Biomed or DAN doctor who specializes in the Andy Cutler Protocol which safely removes heavy metals from the body.
9) Clean Animal Products
Eat meat, eggs and butter that are grass-fed and free from hormones.
10) Other supplements
Talk to your natural health practitioner about NAC (N-acetylcysteine), curcumin, fish oils, vitamin D3, B6, methyl-B12, choline and inositol.
To learn more about how nutrition can improve gene expression and your child’s learning abilities and behaviour, check out my programs which combine nutrient therapy with cognitive therapies that targets the underlying reason why your child is struggling. Think of me as a personal trainer for your child’s brain.
If you’re not sure if these programs are right for you, set up a free 20-minute discovery session to learn more about how you can help your child improve their visual processing so they can become a fluent reader and a more confident kid.
Dr. Ben Lynch – Dirty Genes
Dr. Amy Yasko – Feel Good: Nutrogenomics