How to Help Manage MTHFR Through Your Diet
There is no specific treatment diet for MTHFR—but there are ways to support your health through diet and nutrition. In fact, diet plays an important role in minimizing your risk of health issues associated with MTHFR.
This article will explain what the MTHFR polymorphism can mean for your short-term and long-term health and how it can affect your nutrient status. We’ll also explain how you can “top up” your stores of the right nutrients—particularly folate, B6, and B12—by eating the right foods.
First of all, the basics: people with MTHFR genetic polymorphisms are unable to convert folic acid into its active form, L-methylfolate. Consuming ordinary folic acid—whether in food or in supplements—is ineffective because it can’t be fully utilized by the body.
As a result, many people with an MTHFR mutation end up with low levels of folate and it is associated with deficiencies in several other nutrients, including B12 and B6. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also worsen folate deficiency. Vitamin deficiencies have serious implications for many bodily functions, particularly your brain, cardiovascular and nervous systems.
MTHFR mutations don’t cause health issues on their own. However, they can impair the way your body breaks down nutrients, which can, in turn, affect proper function. This is why dietary intervention isso important.
The MTHFR variants known to have the greatest impact on health include:
- Homozygous 1298 (1298CC) and homozygous 677TT
- Compound heterozygous A1298C + C677T
A compound heterozygous status is thought to have the highest health risks, while some reports suggest that homozygous mutations can reduce MTHFR enzyme function by up to 70%.
We’ll cover the problems associated with the most common MTHFR variants and the dietary recommendations for each. You’ll also learn which foods to avoid, and which supplements are best suited to your particular polymorphism.
Treatment Diet for MTHFR
Those with an MTHFR polymorphism are often low in folate, B12, and B6. These are key nutrients for the proper functioning of the methylation pathway. Impaired methylation can mean that a huge range of important molecules may not be efficiently produced.
Folate, B12, and B6 are required for the breakdown of homocysteine, a potentially harmful amino acid that can damage the lining of the arteries and other cells in the body. Low levels of these B vitamins can lead to an accumulation of homocysteine and, as a result, a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, clotting disorders like stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline, low thyroid, schizophrenia, and osteoporosis.
This means that the main goals for anyone with an MTHFR mutation should be to increase folate and vitamin B levels, optimize methylation, and support the homocysteine-methionine pathway. This will help to protect your cells from harmful homocysteine and improve the function of your immune system, brain, nervous system, and digestion.
Many whole foods are naturally rich in folate, and B vitamins which can help manage your nutrient status. In fact, some studies have suggested that eating a diet rich in folate can help to lower homocysteine as effectively as taking a 5-MTHF supplement.
However, it should be noted that dietary folate will still have to undergo a multi-step conversion process to create the active form that your body can use. This means that if you have an MTHFR mutation, eating folate-rich foods alone will not necessarily provide the levels of folate you need. We’ll discuss options for supplementation at the end of this article.
Those with MTHFR should also choose foods known for reducing the risk of diseases and conditions associated with MTHFR polymorphisms.
Anti-inflammatory diets such as the Mediterranean diet have been shown to improve cognitive function, digestive health, metabolism, and cardiovascular function. Eating plenty of healthy fats is also essential for reducing inflammation.
Gut health is particularly important, as your microbiome plays an important role in your body’s ability to obtain nutrients from food, which in turn will support your overall health and wellbeing.
Here we will outline the MTHFR C677T andA1298C variants and how to manage potential health risks through diet.
MTHFR C677T Mutation Diet
The C677T mutation is one of the two well-known variants that can occur on the MTHFR gene. It’s estimated that 30-40% of the American population may have this particular mutation, and approximately 5-14% of the U.S. population is homozygous for 677TT (this is often referred to as a ‘double mutation’).
People with B12 deficiency are also likely to have a homozygous 677TT genotype. A B12 deficiency further impedes the homocysteine-to-methionine conversion process and can lead to a buildup of homocysteine in the blood.
Along with poor methylation, women with the C677T are more likely to have an increased risk of having children with neural tube defects, while men may be more likely to be infertile.
Research shows that those who are homozygous 677TT often have significantly lower folate levels than heterozygous C677T. Both homozygous 677TT and compound heterozygous (C677T +A1298C) mutations are linked to higher levels of homocysteine and an increased risk of heart disease.
Fortunately, people with reduced enzyme activity obtain the most protection from high levels of folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 intake.
These findings mean that those who are homozygous 677TT should focus on optimizing their intake of active folate, B6,and B12. Their diet should include plenty of folate-rich foods, such as:
- Leafy greens
- Legumes and beans
Many of these foods are already high in B vitamins, but other B-vitamin foods include red meat (especially liver), wholegrains, nuts, seeds, and dairy products.
They should also aim to reduce their levels of homocysteine and systemic inflammation by eating an anti-inflammatory diet. The Meditteranean Diet is a good example: it is rich in brightly colored fruits, olives, healthy fats (avocado, olive oil), and low in sugar.
MTHFR A1298C Homozygous Diet
Some research shows that the A1298C mutation is highly prevalent and similar in its frequency to the known C677T mutation. MTHFR A1298C is found in 7-12% of North American and European populations.
While the C677T variant clearly affects MTHFR enzyme function and is associated with elevated homocysteine and low folate, the risks associated with the A1298C variant are less well defined.A1298C appears to have less of an impact on enzyme function, and those withA1298C usually have normal homocysteine and plasma folate concentrations.
A homozygous MTHFR mutation, however, means you have two copies of the same mutated allele, which may be more serious. A homozygous MTHFR 1298CC is shown to reduce normal enzyme function down to 60%,which may be more severe than the heterozygous or normal states.
As with the C677T variant, one of the main concerns for those with A1298C is increased homocysteine levels in the blood. This means that dietary interventions should focus on reducing homocysteine by increasing the intake of folate, B6, and B12. Foods that reduce oxidation and inflammation, improve detoxification, and support gut health are also important.
- Oily fish
- Brightly-colored fruits
- Leafy greens
- Other whole foods (organic where possible)
MTHFR Meal Plan
First things first: folate!
Foods high in folate should form the basis of the daily MTHFR meal plan. This means plenty of dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale; legumes such as beans and lentils; broccoli, asparagus, and avocado.
Vitamins B6 and B12 are also crucial. These two nutrients work alongside folate in the methylation cycle, reducing homocysteine levels and supporting detoxification.
Increased intake of folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and betaine has been shown to help control or alleviate the risk of elevated homocysteine.
In addition to these B vitamins, a range of other nutrients can help reduce homocysteine and assist with methylation.
Natural Greek yogurt (B12 per 100 g: 0.75 mcg)
Raw walnuts (7% RDA folate)
Plain Greek yogurt provides vitamin B-12, calcium, and vitamin D. It’s also a valuable source of probiotics, which can help to support gastrointestinal health.
Salmon (Red/sockeye), filets with skin. (B6 per 100 g: 0.9 mg, B12 per 100 g: 18.1 mcg)
Salad with raw spinach (49% RDA) and Avocado (20% RDA folate)
Salmon is rich in B6 and protein, and is one of the best oily-fish sources of Omega 3.
Lean beef (B6 per 100 g: 0.5 mg, B12 per 100 g: 2.6 mcg)
Beans/lentils (~50% RDA folate)
Broccoli (27% RDA folate)
Olive oil (Moroccan olive oil is highly recommended for its high hydroxytyrosol content)
Along with protein, lean beef is an excellent source of iron, Vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, niacin, and phosphorus.
Your diet should also include foods rich in protein and probiotic bacteria to help restore the integrity of the digestive tract. Fermented foods such as kimchi, kefir, and miso are good options. Other gut-healing foods include bone broth, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and turmeric.
Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 can help reduce inflammation and the risk of heart disease. All foods should be in their whole, natural state. Choose hormone-free, grass-fed meats, grass-fed butter or ghee, and organic free-range eggs.
Foods to Avoid with MTHFR
Those with MTHFR should avoid foods fortified with folic acid, the synthetic form of folate. The body is unable to properly convert folic acid into its active form, which can result in a buildup of folic acid in the body.
Folic acid is added to many fortified breads, cereals, pasta, and other grain products: check labels carefully.
Reduce intake of inflammatory foods such as sugar, gluten, refined grains, dairy, trans fats, and processed snacks.
Those with gluten sensitivity and MTHFR can suffer a double blow as the symptoms of both can amplify one another. Gluten is also a major cause of inflammation in the gut lining.
Supplements for MTHFR Mutation Treatment
It can be difficult to get the necessary amount of folate and other essential nutrients from food alone, so supplementation is often the most efficient way to restore a deficiency.
In the case of hyperhomocysteinemia, scientists recommend treatment with B-complex vitamins.
This is the primary active form of folate in your body required for the conversion of homocysteine into methionine. Taking folate 5-MTHF directly has been shown to significantly increase blood serum folate levels and reduce homocysteine levels. It’s also more effective than taking folic acid in lowering homocysteine.
Vitamin B6 (P5P)
Low B6 status can cause homocysteine to accumulate, while also reducing the availability of SAMe for methylation processes.
The active form of vitamin B6 is known aspyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P), which makes up around 70-80% of vitamin B6 in plasma. It serves as a cofactor for more than 150 enzymes in the body, including the metabolism of homocysteine and tryptophan.
When taken along with folate, B12 has been shown to help lower homocysteine levels more significantly than taking folate alone.
Those who are vegan, vegetarian, or simply unable to absorb B12 properly will require supplementation with a highly bioavailable form of vitamin B12 in order to ensure optimal levels.
Trimethylglycine (TMG) Betaine
Betaine donates a methyl group to break down homocysteine into L-methionine, as well as increasing levels of S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAMe)or active folate molecules. This allows SAMe and folate to go on and donate methyl groups to other parts of the body.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to significantly lower homocysteine and other cardiovascular risk factors.
Taurine is a non-essential sulfur-containing amino acid that may help to reduce high homocysteine levels and protect the heart and vascular cells.
Omega 3 fish oil
This essential fatty acid has been shown to help reduce homocysteine levels by increasing the amount of active MTFHR reductase enzymes, supporting cognitive and cardiovascular function. It travels easily through the blood-brain barrier to interact with mood-related molecules in the brain, and harbors powerful anti-inflammatory benefits
Medications to Avoid with MTHFR
Medications that can reduce the absorption of B vitamins:
- Oral contraceptive pills
Talk with your doctor before stopping any medications that can affect the absorption of B vitamins to ensure it is right for you.
Medications that increase homocysteine include nitrous oxide which is commonly used in dentistry. Nitrous oxide is an abusable substance and should not be ingested outside of a medical setting by a doctor or dentist.
Supplements to Avoid with MTHFR
Patients with MTHFR gene mutations should avoid taking any supplements that contain synthetic folic acid. This includes most store-bought multivitamins.
Living with an MTHFR genetic mutation doesn’t mean you will always be battling symptoms. By nourishing your body with the right foods, you can reduce the risk of nutrient deficiencies and support normal bodily processes that may otherwise be lacking.
Depending on the variant of the polymorphism, your stores of folate are likely to be low. This has a downstream effect on your stores of other B vitamins—particularly B6 and B12.
Subsequently, this will affect your body’s ability to carry out a number of other important processes: methylation, metabolizing harmful homocysteine, creating neurotransmitters, supporting cells and tissues, detoxification, and more.
Following a MTHFR treatment diet may not provide all of the nutrients your body needs, but it’s a start. A MTHFR diet should be rich in whole foods containing B vitamins in their natural, active state, especially folate. These include leafy greens, legumes, and various animal products.
Eating a range of antioxidant-rich anti-inflammatory foods can also help to protect cells from risk factors associated with chronic disease. Choose organic, non-processed foods where possible.
In the case of a severe deficiency, the best option for optimizing methylation processes is via supplementation.
Some of the best methylfolate supplements for those with MTHFR mutations can be found in the Methyl-Life® product range. These include B-Methylated II, Methylated Multivitamin, Methylfolate 7.5+ or Methylfolate 15+. The Methyl-Life® range has been created by a team of natural health experts and contains the purest, most stable, and most potent of four of the world’s industry-leading patented L-Methylfolates. It is also suitable for vegans and those with cardiovascular risks.
For those who are unable to properly absorb B12, Methy-Life’s® B12 Complete is ideal. B12 Complete contains a combination of the 3 most bioactive forms of B12 (hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin) for maximum delivery and uptake.