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Understand how your MTHFR gene mutation can be responsible for anxiety disorder and other mental health conditions

Understand how your MTHFR gene mutation can be responsible for anxiety disorder and other mental health conditions

Understand how your MTHFR gene mutation can be responsible for anxiety disorder and other mental health conditions

Anxiety disorder can significantly impact your quality of life. If you have a MTHFR gene mutation, it is probable that you have suffered from anxiety and depression at some time in your life. 

Many of our patients at our Perth clinic of Advanced Functional Medicine have tried different antidepressants with little or no effect, often being required to continually increase the dose and experience a growing number of side effects.

Long term use of SSRI antidepressants will deplete serotonin levels, as they hold the available serotonin in the synapse for longer where it is active.  Improving mood in the short term but not providing the body with any additional serotonin or the ability to make more of your own.  

While the conventional medicine approach focuses on balancing neurotransmitters in the brain, the Functional Medicine approach is to look for the root cause. 1

What are some common symptoms of someone with an MTHFR gene mutation?

  • Cardiovascular and thromboembolic diseases (specifically blood clots, stroke, embolism, and heart attacks)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Colon cancer
  • Acute leukemia
  • Chronic pain and fatigue

As you can see, the effects are significant and wide-ranging but, in this article, we’re going to talk specifically about anxiety and how the MTHFR gene can impact your mental health.

Living with anxiety disorder

Anxiety is part of the normal human experience. It helps us survive by preparing us for danger. 

But chronic anxiety that’s always present and is not based on what’s happening in your life is not part of the normal human experience. 

Anxiety disorder is more than just feeling stressed or worried about something. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where a person feels under pressure, it usually passes once the stressful situation has passed, or the trigger removed.

Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don’t go away and they stay around, seemingly without reason. Anxiety is a serious condition that can make it hard for an individual to cope with daily life. Most people feel anxious from time-to-time, but for a person experiencing anxiety, these feelings cannot be easily controlled.

Anxiety symptoms

The symptoms of anxiety can often develop gradually over time, often meaning it is difficult to know when things have got ‘too much’. In order to be diagnosed with anxiety, the condition must have a disabling impact on a person’s life. There are many different types of anxiety with a range of symptoms for each.

Common signs of anxiety disorder

  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Racing heart
  • Tightening of the chest
  • Out-of-control, ever-growing worries
  • Obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour 2
  • Panic attacks

Is anxiety genetic?

Researchers aren’t 100% certain what causes anxiety disorders. Each anxiety disorder has its own risk factors but you’re more likely to develop an anxiety disorder if:

  • You’ve had traumatic life experiences
  • You have a physical condition that is linked to anxiety, such as thyroid disorders
  • You have a MTHFR gene variation
  • Your biological relatives have anxiety disorders or other mental illnesses

In other words, anxiety disorders can be both genetic and caused by environmental factors. 

Methylation and anxiety

Methylation is the process by which your body transfers one set of atoms into a series of amino acids, proteins, enzymes and DNA in each and every cell and tissue in your body. The process of methylation is involved with activities such as:

  • Detoxification
  • Repairing and building DNA and RNA
  • Processing hormones
  • Building immune cells
  • Producing energy
  • Repairing cell membranes
  • Turning the stress response on and off
  • Supporting neurotransmitters – the brain’s communication chemicals
  • Supporting fat metabolism

Methyl groups in your body are the ‘on-off’ switches of the cells’ activities. As your cells are then responsible for all tissues and organs in the body, it is vital they are healthy and working as optimally as possible.

Anything upwards of 45-50% of the general population have some kind of mutation on one of the MTHFR genes. 3

mthfr testing

What is the connection between the MTHFR gene and anxiety?

The MTHFR gene (short for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase variant) serves a critical purpose: the production of the MTHFR enzyme. 

The body has a number of raw materials that must be processed into a new form before they can be used by the body. 

Folate (Vitamin B9) is one of these raw materials and the MTHFR enzyme is the body’s tool to process it. In perfect circumstances, the MTHFR enzyme transforms folate into an ingredient the body can use – methylfolate. 

Methylfolate is a crucial element in our biology responsible for building the ingredients that determine how good we feel. It enables our bodies to convert the amino acid homocysteine into another amino acid, methionine. 4 

Methionine is used to make brain chemicals essential for a number of aspects of our mental health—these include the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine

How can a gene mutation affect my mood?

Methylation is a process that profoundly affects neurotransmitter production. 

Without methylfolate, these neurotransmitter levels decrease, leading to, among other things, depression and anxiety.

Common gene mutations such as MTHFR can reduce your body’s ability to convert nutrients, including B vitamins, folate and choline to their active form via methylation. Vitamin D receptor mutations can lead to vitamin D deficiency. Mutations that control sulfation can lead to low zinc levels. 5

Methyl folate, with the help of Vitamin B12, goes on to make SAMe (S-adensoyl methionine) and these methyls help us create serotonin, dopamine and GABA, a calming brain chemical. These neurotransmitters keep you calm, happy and motivated.

If we don’t have these methyls or we can’t use the ones we do have, then our mood and anxiety can be negatively affected. Working to correct this imbalance can improve our mood and reduce anxiety considerably because our ability to cope with stress has been improved.

What happens when the B complex group of vitamins is deficient?

  • Vitamin B1 – lactic acid builds up in your body which leads to lactic acidosis, which in turn leads to anxiety and triggers panic attacks.
  • Vitamin B2 – a coenzyme that makes vitamin B6 work properly as an antidepressant is reduced. B3 cannot be made properly from the amino acid tryptophan when B2 is low which leads to depression.
  • B3 Vitamin – anxiety and depression.
  • Vitamin B5 – fatigue with anxiety, restlessness, and irritability.
  • Vitamin B6 – depression, nervousness, irritability, and fatigue.
  • B12 Vitamin – irritability, anxiety or tension, shortness of breath and heart palpitations 6

MTHFR psychiatric disorders 

MTHFR can cause many mental health problems that are strongly associated with anxiety, these include:

  • Depression
  • Generalised Anxiety disorder
  • Low self esteem
  • Mood swings
  • Bipolar disorder
  • ADD / ADHD
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Agoraphobia
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Learning difficulties
  • Addictive behaviour
  • Pyrrole disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Natural remedies for anxiety and depression

At Advanced Functional Medicine, our integrative practitioners will recommend a combination of the following to assist you with your mood and anxiety:

  • Assess and repair your gut function 
  • Assess your methylation and other biochemical pathways
  • Balance key nutrients
  • Balance your hormones

Diet recommendations

anxiety diet

Diet has a huge impact on mood, so we recommend you balance key nutrients that are essential to healthy brain function:

  • Eat organic where possible.
  • Ensure your diet is high in vegetables
    • Leafy greens, broccoli, lentils and many beans are great sources of folate, fibre, and other nutrients
  • Swap out folic acid for the more bioavailable form of folate – l-methylfolate)
    • This is more usable by the body and easily available in health food stores, many pharmacies, and online. L-methylfolate is sometimes referred to as “optimized folate”
  • Reduce the amount of processed food you eat
    • This will reduce inflammation and the burden on detoxification pathways and systems of elimination 7
  • Avoid processed foods and supplements containing the folic acid form of folate
    • It’s not as easily used by people with an MTHFR mutation and may interfere with the absorption of l-methylfolate
  • Because MTHFR impacts the process of methylation, it is also recommended to take a methylated (and more usable) form of B12, known as methylcobalamin, rather than the more commonly available cyanocobalamin form
    • B12 absorption is essential for good mental health
  • Eat a diet rich in shellfish and organ meats, as well as other nutrient-dense foods
    • Non-starchy vegetables
    • Other animal products
    • Nuts and seeds and fruits
    • Sea vegetables for iodine
    • Animal fats or some traditional fats for vitamin A and D
    • And seafood for vitamin D and selenium – clams and oysters are particularly important in terms of their nutrient density. They are the highest sources of iron, zinc, and B12 8
  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol, avoid smoking and get adequate sleep
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage your stress
    • Stress uses up methyl groups and cortisol shuts off reproductive function.
  • Remove environmental and household toxins where possible 9
  • Use supplements to address any deficiencies

How can Advanced Functional Medicine help your Anxiety

Often people have experienced anxiety for many years of their lives, and it can be difficult for them to imagine life without anxiety.  Once you discover that your anxiety is coming from MTHFR gene problems there is good news – correcting nutritional imbalances the right way by supporting the gene mutation and associated pathways are very successful at resolving anxiety.

Healing anxiety and depression through functional medicine removes the need for pharmaceutical management of your mood and undesirable side effects. 

At Advanced Functional Medicine, we can conduct testing to find out if you have an MTHFR gene mutation and perform functional testing to understand what if happening in your biochemistry.  We then will devise a treatment plan to get you back to feeling like your normal self.

Contact us to find out more or book an appointment.

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