Prenatal Vitamins and MTHFR: Choosing the Right Supplements for You
Prenatal supplements are highly recommended for most women during pregnancy. For women with an MTHFR mutation, prenatal vitamins may be even more critical, and special consideration must be given to the exact form and quantity of vitamins within the supplement. This is due to the complications that MTHFR deficiency causes in metabolizing folate. Folate is crucial to the cellular differentiation and epigenetic changes that occur during fetal development, and a lack of folate can result in severe abnormalities.
This article will discuss how MTHFR SNPs can negatively impact pregnancy and why pregnancy supplementation is essential, particularly regarding folic acid and folate. We will also explain which form of folate is best for pregnant women with MTHFR and other dietary recommendations.
MTHFR Mutations and Pregnancy Outcomes
Folate plays a critical role in fetal development; it is required for proper DNA synthesis and repair, control of gene expression, and many other biological processes involved in cell division. A lack of folate before conception and during pregnancy has been associated with numerous birth defects.
The MTHFR (L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate) gene is responsible for converting folic acid into a usable form of folate. However, a mutation in the MTHFR gene impairs this conversion, resulting in insufficient folate. As a result, hundreds of enzymatic reactions that require folate cannot occur properly.
There are several common variants of MTHFR mutations. Each of us inherits a copy of each MTHFR gene SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) from each parent. Mutations can affect one (heterozygous) or both copies (homozygous). Homozygous mutations reduce MTHFR enzyme function even further, increasing the risk of health complications. MTHFR SNPs are also associated with an increased risk of infertility, miscarriage, and other pregnancy complications.
Taking the correct form of folate before conception and during pregnancy can significantly improve the chances of a successful pregnancy.
How Prenatal Supplementation Can Help
Nutrient levels during pregnancy significantly impact fetal development. Pregnant women are usually prescribed specific prenatal vitamins by their doctor, namely folic acid and iron. However, because MTHFR is required for processing folic acid, those with the MTHFR mutation will be unable to benefit from folic acid supplementation. This can severely deprive both the mother and fetus of necessary folate, increasing the risk of neural tube defects.
The best option for pregnant women with MTHFR SNPs is methylfolate. Methylfolate is one of the few folate forms that require no further conversion in the body and can bypass an MTHFR mutation. Prenatal vitamins that contain methylfolate can provide vital support during preconception and pregnancy.
Other research suggests that supplements containing L-methylfolate and high-dose vitamin B(12) can help maintain hemoglobin levels and reduce the risk of anemia in pregnancy more effectively than standard prenatal vitamins.
Which Prenatal Supplements Should People with MTHFR Take?
Methylfolate has been shown to increase the amount of “efficient” folate in the body more effectively than folic acid. Supplementation with methylfolate may be an effective way to avoid the MTHFR-related problems of conception and miscarriages.
Researchers also note that supplementing with methylfolate avoids the risk of Unmetabolized Folic Acid Syndrome (UMFA), which has been linked to serious diseases such as cancer.
Studies suggest that women with MTHFR may improve their chances of pregnancy success by supplementing with methylfolate, even if they have suffered MTHFR-related miscarriages previously.
Supplementation with methylfolate is also found to result in higher red blood cell and plasma folate concentrations than in the women supplemented with folic acid.
Other Supplements for MTHFR Pregnancies
During pregnancy, demand for iron increases as the body must support the growing fetus and placenta while also increasing maternal red cell mass. Iron deficiency is common among pregnant women who do not take iron supplements.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and Vitamin D are both essential for proper fetal skeletal development. Vitamin D also supports healthy immune function for both mother and baby.
Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are critical building blocks of the fetal brain and retina. They may also play a role in supporting a healthy gestation period and preventing perinatal depression.
Iodine is critical to support increased thyroid hormone production in pregnancy and reduce the risk of congenital anomalies.
Vitamin B12 is essential for cellular growth and differentiation, as well as for DNA methylation, and could be an independent factor for fetal development. Other B vitamins also play crucial roles in energy production and fetal growth.
What You Eat Matters Too
Eating plenty of folate-rich foods throughout pregnancy may also support pregnancy success. Folate is present in a wide variety of animal and plant foods, including liver, legumes, mushrooms, and leafy greens. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and yogurt also contain higher amounts of folate. You can learn more about foods containing methylfolate here.
While many packaged foods are fortified with synthetic folic acid, those with MTHFR defects must avoid them due to their inability to process the folic acid.
Managing nutritional requirements during pregnancy for women with an MTHFR mutation is crucial. Increased demands for folate must be met with methylfolate to bypass the MTHFR SNP and support the healthy development of the fetus. Additional supplementation of iron, B vitamins, and other nutrients is also critical during preconception and pregnancy.
Unfortunately, most prenatal vitamins and fortified foods contain only synthetic nutrients, including folic acid, which must be avoided.
For this reason, a quality prenatal supplement that contains tissue-ready nutrients is essential. A good example is Methyl-Life’s® Pregnancy Bundle, which includes L-Methylfolate 2.5mg, Vitamin B12 (as Hydroxocobalamin), and a methylation-supporting multivitamin. This bundle is formulated specifically for pregnant women with a heightened need for bioavailable folate and other nutrients due to MTHFR defects.