21 May 2015

MTHFR – The Gene Mutation That Could Damage Your Unborn Baby

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I owe a lot to my pregnancy, it revealed the final missing piece in my perennial search for answers to questions about my health and for that I am eternally grateful. I should be even more grateful, though, to Jessica, a lady in Florida who told me about the gene mutation, MTHFR.

If you are pregnant, a parent, planning on having children or have stomach issues, allergies, autoimmune or other ‘unexplained’ health problems that continually persist, despite your best efforts, I urge you to read on, despite the length of this post. It has taken me thirty-one years to figure out what I am about to tell you, and it has changed not just my life for the better, but that of my unborn baby, too.

I came across this invaluable information during my own quest for remission of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, which I was diagnosed with when I was two. Thankfully, through my own stubbornness and determination to not spend my life being disabled, I finally conquered the disease for good, through all natural sources, and have been in remission for two years.

In order to understand fully what MTHFR entails, it means being able to understand complex biochemistry, which I’m assuming, like me, most people reading this will not be overly familiar with. So I will explain it in simple terms;

The MTHFR mutation inhibits the body’s ability to methylate, or convert folic acid into Methylfolate. Methylfolate is the active and usable form of folic acid – which is why it is more sensible to take it in the form of Methylfolate in the first place, especially if you are pregnant, as opposed to taking the synthetic version of folic acid. The body also finds it hard to process vitamin B12 and other vitamins, and instead, your liver converts them into toxins.

The body is constantly taking in toxins, but the liver of a healthy person will be able to detoxify and release these toxins. When you have MTHFR, the toxins get trapped and will continue to build up over the years, causing a slew of different illnesses. This suppression of toxins could show itself in any way from persistent headaches or migraines, unexplained allergies, autoimmune issues, low immunity, gastrointestinal problems (which, after every test under the sun would probably have been labelled as IBS), Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, deficiencies, hormone problems and a myriad of other ailments.

You can have the Homozygous gene or the Heterozygous gene. Homozygous is the worst one; it means your body converts 70% of these nutrients into toxins. Luckily for me, I have the heterozygous gene, which means that my body processes 30% into toxins and before I explain what this means for me and my baby, I’ll explain first how I found this out.

This lady in Florida, Jessica, is the mother of a little girl with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis whom I have been in touch with for a few years. She also decided to go down the complementary medicine route and thankfully, like me, her little girl is now doing really well. Jessica found out that she had the MTHFR gene mutation, and, unfortunately for her, she had the worst kind. She realised that this gene mutation in her was probably the reason why her daughter got autoimmune arthritis. For years she urged me to have the blood test but I kept putting it off because there was always something else to contend with.

But then I got pregnant, and on the blood form at my clinic I noticed it had an option to test for MTHFR. I had to pay extra for it, but I decided it was the perfect opportunity to have the test. Ten days later it came back positive. Now, had I not have spoken to Jessica, I would never have known what MTHFR was and I would have totally overlooked it on the sheet of paper. More than that, not one doctor had ever advised me to have the test.

My doctor, who told me that the test was positive, prescribed folic acid in very high doses. ‘If you have MTHFR’, she said, ‘your body doesn’t absorb as much folic acid so you need more.’ This was their understanding and the extent of their understanding of the gene mutation ended there.

My history of illness and subsequent self-acquired remission of course encouraged me to look elsewhere and get information from a more reliable source and not simply walk out of the clinic accepting that ‘the doctor must know everything and I don’t need to think about this anymore’. Doctors, we must remember, are humans, just like us, and despite their panoply of knowledge and accomplishments, they can’t possibly specialise in everything so we cannot and must not assume that they can know the answers to every last medical problem. We have a responsibility to ourselves and must take responsibility for our own bodies. (If we all did this, we would help relieve pressure on the NHS drastically, but this is another story altogether.) I was in early stages of pregnancy, it was my first baby, I was worried and determined to understand everything I needed to about what this meant for me and my baby. I spoke to Jessica and she led me to the website of Dr Ben Lynch, the primary resource for everything MTHFR related. He is based in the States but recommends specialists for MTHFR all over the world. It turns out there were only three in the UK and only one in London. I got in touch with him and had two phone consultations and, between him, Dr Lynch, Jessica and other research I did, this is what I learnt…

My body cannot absorb many nutrients, but two of the most important ones (for right now anyway) are folic acid and vitamin B12. That being said, ‘folic acid’ in the way we know it, is synthetic. It is folate we need, and in higher quantities when we are pregnant in order for the baby to develop.

Folate is found in plenty of foods but we don’t eat enough of those foods anymore so the pharmaceutical industry jumped right on and created folic acid. My body cannot absorb this synthetic form of it. Not only can it not absorb it, but my liver turns it toxic, leaving me feeling ill (and probably never knowing why) and meaning that my baby is not receiving critical nutrients at a critical time. In order for my body to be able to absorb folate properly and process it in a way that it gets fed through to the baby, it needs to be in the form of Methylfolate, the primary biologically active form of folic acid used at the cellular level for DNA reproduction.

Because I had done a lot of research prior to falling pregnant, I already knew that Methylfolate was the healthier way of taking folic acid (even though I knew nothing about methylation at the time), so luckily for me, my prenatal supplement was already in the form of Methylfolate and my B12 was in the form of Methylcobalamin. I learned about the B12 thing when my arthritis pain got so bad that it started affecting the nerves. Once I made the decision to heal myself, I did research into B12 and realised my body wasn’t absorbing it properly but I never knew why, so I got Methylcobalamin, have been taking it ever since, and that pain went away almost instantly. Obviously I never fully understood why until now.

I was six weeks pregnant when I found this out so I was pretty lucky that I’d already been taking this prenatal supplement but the MTHFR specialist recommended a different brand and I have been on that ever since.

My obstetrician, just like the doctor who gave me the MTHFR blood results, knew nothing about MTHFR other than that it meant that I ‘needed higher doses of folic acid’. In my experience, many doctors do not like to be told what is right and what is wrong by their patients, but my lovely obstetrician listened, seemed shocked, and thanked me for passing on information that he didn’t know. He said it could help many women who came his way and that he was going to go off and do some research on it. He said that the MTHFR would leave my baby susceptible to miscarriage, Down’s Syndrome, a brain defect, and spina bifida. By the time I saw him I was ten weeks pregnant and at that scan he ruled out the brain defect but said that the other three were still possible and had to be ruled out at different stages, the last one at sixteen weeks.

I am now twenty-one weeks pregnant and have surmised that the reason that all these things have now (thank God) been ruled out, is because my body got the right nutrients it needed in the right forms. My baby was not susceptible to spina bifida because he/she received the folate he/she needed. The reason most women in my situation would still be at risk of that is because they would still be taking the synthetic folic acid without knowing that despite their best efforts of taking this, the baby was not receiving it and was therefore at risk of these awful conditions.

My mum must have this mutation and because she didn’t know about it she took folic acid. She didn’t miscarry and I didn’t have spina bifida, but it severely affected my immune system, which, of course, was another thing she would not have known about when I was born. This lowered immune system then led (a few weeks after a vaccine trigger) to Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of two, which I subsequently had for the rest of my life. Although I got myself into remission, it is only now that all the pieces fit together but I am so glad I know this. I can now make sure that I give my baby the very best chance at staying healthy.

It is thought that an estimated 60% of the population have this gene mutation, but most don’t even know about it. 60%! That’s huge! So why isn’t it spoken about more? Why have we never heard of it? Why do doctors not know about it? And if they don’t know enough about it, why are they prescribing anything at all? Taking folic acid in its synthetic form is highly dangerous if you have MTHFR. We need to be aware of this but our healthcare professionals also need to be aware of it. How would the average person know to look out for it if the people we trust with our healthcare have no idea about it? Obstetricians, midwives and primary care givers especially need to be educated on this.

Knowledge is power and we must stop being complacent with ourselves and with our children and know that we are allowed to research, that the doctors can’t know everything and we need to figure stuff out for ourselves. If doctors don’t know much about MTHFR, how many other conditions are leading to our decline in health that they don’t know about?

If 60% of people have this gene mutation, you could be one of them, so I hope this article encourages you to get the test, for the sake of you and your children. Imagine if this gene mutation is the reason for so many of us having such a range of illnesses and ailments, all because our bodies can’t detoxify!

And even if you don’t have the test, perhaps you will take away from this the knowledge that there is a reason and a trigger for every illness or ailment and we can access that reason and fix it before it’s too late. If you are pregnant – or planning – and even if you don’t plan on getting the MTHFR test, consider taking folate in the form of Methylfolate instead of synthetic folic acid.

I hope that by writing this article, I can help some people avoid the unthinkable.

Lauren Vaknine

 

The prenatal supplement I take is called Optimal Prenatal by Seeking Health and can be purchased at www.functionalutritionsupplements.co.uk

For more information about my story and subsequent remission, you can purchase my book, ‘My Enemy, My Friend’ on Amazon.

 

 

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