Dr. Doni, author of The Stress Remedy, explains the connections between MTHFR mutations, diabetes, and heart disease, and offers tips for optimizing your health.
The first seven articles in this series describe genetic mutations (SNPs), how to test for them, and how they affect the methylation cycle, mood, and fertility. If you missed any of these posts and wish to catch up, here are the links:
- Part 1: Genetics and Your Health – An Introduction
- Part 2: Uncovering Genetic Mutations: How to Test for Them
- Part 3: Understanding the Methylation Cycle and Its Effect on Health
- Part 4: 8 Steps to Support Your Methylation Cycle and Address SNPs
- Part 5: MTHFR, Genetics, and Stress: A Recipe for Anxiety and Depression
- Part 6: Pregnancy, Miscarriages and MTHFR
- Part 7: MTHFR, Adrenal Fatigue and Burn Out
- Part 8 (this post): MTHFR, Diabetes and Heart Disease
- Part 9: MTHFR, Cervical Dysplasia and Cancer Risk
- Part 10: 8 Health Risks When You Have a MTHFR Genetic Mutation
Now let’s dive into talking about how MTHFR mutations can affect your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. This topic is of interest considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death (above cancer), and diabetes is known to increase risk of heart disease. That amounts to over 600,000 deaths per year from heart disease1 and over $100 billion spent each year to address diabetes and heart disease, both of which are preventable conditions.
Uncovering the Real Cause of Diabetes and Heart Disease
Those of us who are passionate about preventing health issues have continued to focus on the daily food, exercise, and lifestyle choices we can all make to decrease our risk of illness and optimize our wellness, no matter what our level of genetic risk.
It was previously thought that cholesterol in our diet was the main cause of heart disease and, in fact, that has been (and is still) the basis of most of the work of the medical establishment and of government guidelines on prevention of heart disease. However, research over the past few decades shows something very different and is beginning to change the way we think of heart disease risk.
We now know, thanks to research, that sugar rather than cholesterol and fat, is more of a concern when it comes to heart disease and diabetes risk. This means that Cheerios (and other high carb, high sugar foods) are more likely to cause heart disease than eggs, nuts, and bacon. A study from 2014 clearly showed that most adults in the U.S. are consuming an increasing number of calories from sugar2. That same study also found that eating more sugar is associated with an increased risk of death from heart disease.
So the real culprit is sugar, not cholesterol. And that is why, when patients ask me how to decrease their risk of heart disease and diabetes, I automatically start talking about how to drop their intake of carbohydrates and sugar, and to make sure they are eating healthy proteins and fats every few hours. Read more about how and why to decrease your sugar intake here.
But it doesn’t stop there. Imbalanced blood sugar levels, even before it’s diagnosed as diabetes, have been associated with many health issues including inflammation, weight gain, headaches, sleep issues, mood changes, PCOS, recurrent infections, and liver disease. So while you’re decreasing your risk of heart disease and diabetes, you’ll also be addressing many other possible health issues. And THAT is exactly why I named imbalanced blood sugar as one of the three problem networks in my book, The Stress Remedy. Because imbalanced blood sugar is the start of many major health issues and balancing it is the start of much optimization of wellness.
How is All This Related to MTHFR Mutations?
What the research is also showing is that when homocysteine levels are elevated, which occurs when a person has an untreated MTHFR mutation, they are more likely to have issues with insulin and pancreatic function which can lead to diabetes3. Put the two risks together—for instance, someone with an MTHFR mutation who is eating a diet high in sugar—and the risk increases even more.
Furthermore, patients with an MTHFR mutation who have been diagnosed with diabetes have an increased risk of experiencing the negative effects of diabetes, including neuropathy, kidney disease, and heart disease. Plus the drugs used to treat diabetes, such as Metformin, are likely to deplete the nutrients (B6, B12, folate and CoQ10) that are known to manage MTHFR, homocysteine and heart disease risk.
MTHFR mutations on their own, even without diabetes, also increase the likelihood that heart disease and high blood pressure will develop4.
How Do You Know If This Is Happening For You?
- Blood work. Ask your doctor for blood work to check for homocysteine, HgbA1c, B12, methylmalonic acid, and RBC folate. Keep in mind that insurance might not cover the cost of these tests so you may have to pay out of pocket for the information. Also know that blood levels of nutrients, such as B12, don’t necessarily tell you how well your body is using those nutrients, and so other tests may be necessary in order to ensure the most success.
- Genetic testing for MTHFR mutations and other mutations. It is now possible to get a report of your genetic mutations without spending thousands of dollars. Currently, the most comprehensive method is to send a saliva sample to an ancestry company such as 23andme or AncestryDNA, who can then provide your genetic data that can be interpreted by a computer program. Once you have that report, a practitioner with specialized training will be able to help you to understand the most important steps for you to take. You can read more about how to get this done in this article. I have also created a genetic profiling package to help walk you through the process; you can read more about that here.
- Know your family history. If you have a family history of heart disease and/or diabetes, it is worth figuring that these may be the result of underlying genetic tendencies—not to assume that it is a lost cause, but to help empower you to make choices each day that can prevent your health from moving in that direction.
So, What Choices Should You Be Making?
- Be on the lookout for sugar. Read labels, and if they list sugar as an ingredient, choose something else.
- Eat half of what you put on your plate and save the rest for later. I mean it! It’s the “eat-half” challenge. When you sit down to eat, choose to break that old “eat everything on your plate” pattern by finding out if you can eat just half.
- Exercise. But make it 10-15 minutes instead of an hour and include strength building. Buy a Bosu and some weights; put on a 20 minute yoga or barre video; drop to a plank position once an hour—whatever it takes to get the message to your body that it should be using carbs for energy instead of storing them.
- Choose colorful fruits and vegetables. This is where you are going to find bio-flavonoids (antioxidants) and healthy folate! Think green leaves and avocado, blue and red berries, and orange carrots and squash.
- Break the “rules” and eat your fats! Avocado, olives, nuts, oils. Come on, you can do it and enjoy it too. I mean, you’re not going to have only them, but you can definitely have them with your protein and (gluten-free, high-fiber) carbs.
- Take a high quality multivitamin*. Not a low quality multi, not a tablet, probably not a one-a-day product and certainly not the least expensive one. You won’t get what you really need by cutting corners. Spend $25 (or less) and get yourself a good multivitamin that actually contains the nutrients your body can use—like methylfolate, methyl B12, B6, choline, and minerals, like magnesium, manganese, and chromium. Find an example here. All of these nutrients can be difficult to get in even the healthiest of diets, and they all help with both MTHFR mutations and heart disease risk.
I hope you are! As a human, staying as healthy as you can for as long as you can means that you’ll have more time with your family and friends, and more time to contribute what you do best to our world.
If you’d like help with understanding your genetics and what you can do to prevent health issues or improve your health, you can check out my MTHFR and Genetic Profiling Solutions Package in which you and I will meet and plan out the important steps for you to take.
What are your thoughts about MTHFR, diabetes, and heart disease risk? Have you seen it make a difference in your life and what has worked to improve your health?
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29th April 2015
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.
Links to References Included in this Article