Dr. Doni Wilson discusses inflammation, how it affects you when you have an MTHFR mutation, and how to recover without medication.
So many of my clients have been told they have an MTHFR mutation. Typically, practitioners have prescribed methyl-folate and B-vitamins to treat the problem, but my clients say they don’t feel any better; sometimes they even feel worse. In my extensive experience with such cases, this is because other issues have not been addressed first. Think of it like a clogged sink: No matter how much water you pour in, it won’t flow unless you remove the blockages.
In this series of articles, I have been discussing some of the potential ‘blockages’ that need to be removed before methyl-folate and B-vitamins can ‘flow’ and have any beneficial effect within your body, including toxins, heavy metals, and leaky gut. Today I want to talk about how inflammation can block the enzyme pathways in your body, impairing the methylation process and making it difficult to feel better even if you are taking the recommended supplements.
What is Inflammation? A Brief Review
Think of when you cut your skin and it gets pink or red around the edges, and a bit swollen. That is normal, healthy inflammation: Your body is bringing in blood and immune cells to help fight off bacteria and heal the wound.
The immune system makes antibodies (called Ig, which is short for immunoglobulin), histamine, and cytokines (of various kinds) to protect you from what your body perceives as a threat. So, an immune response is necessary and important. However, if such a response is triggered for long periods of time, the area under attack becomes exposed to prolonged inflammation.
Remember that the immune system can be activated anywhere in our bodies, not just in our skin. And inflammation can spread throughout the body, even the nervous system. That’s because antibodies, histamine, and cytokines are the messengers of the immune system, similar to hormones. When they get out of balance, you’re more likely to feel pain, exhaustion, brain fog, dizziness, allergies, congestion, shortness of breath, and itchiness. In this way, the immune response can become a stress in the body, rather than maintaining healthy function.
What Kinds of Inflammation Most Affect MTHFR?
There are many potential causes of inflammation in our bodies. Here are four of the most common that I see in my practice:
- Leaky gut – When the intestinal cells are not as healthy as they could be, the immune system is bombarded by undigested food and bacterial toxins, all of which triggers food sensitivities and inflammation at the intestinal lining. That inflammation then spreads throughout the body.
- Dysbiosis – We have trillions of bacteria living in our large intestines, and they play a very important role in communicating with our immune and nervous systems, as well as making nutrients that are important for our health. When these bacteria are thrown out of balance by stress, food sensitivities (e.g. to gluten or dairy), medications, pesticides, and other causes – and yeast or other bacteria are allowed to overgrow – it leads to severe inflammation in the digestive tract.
- Viral infections – Herpes, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), shingles, HPV, and other viral infections are activated by stress, be it emotional or physical. While our bodies, when healthy, can fend off viruses, they struggle when under heavy stress. Stress is known to reduce the effectiveness of the part of our immune function that fights off viruses. Consequently, viruses re-activate and cause inflammation, often in the area of the body where the virus lives.
- Lyme disease – More prevalent than people realize, Lyme and other tick diseases are a very common cause of inflammation. Often people don’t realize that Lyme is causing symptoms of inflammation, such as low-grade fever, fatigue, aches and pains, and brain fog.
How Inflammation Affects Methylation
As discussed in prior articles of mine, methylation is a key process that ensures healthy bodily functioning. In scientific terms, during methylation methyl-folate comes together with methyl-cobalamin (B12) and homocysteine to make a substance called methionine, which is then converted to SAM (S-adenosylmethionine). Our bodies need SAM for many different purposes, including maintaining energy, mood, and focus; healthy cell production; breaking down adrenaline; ridding the body of histamine; and ensuring good sleep.
However, when we suffer from inflammation, this blocks the methylation pathways of two enzymes vital to the process:
- MTR enzyme – This enzyme is needed to combine homocysteine, folate, and B12 to make methionine.
- MAT enzyme – This enzyme turns methionine in SAM, which is essential to methylation; it does all the ‘good stuff’ in the body, like creating choline, creatine, neurotransmitters, and healthy cells.
Instead of making SAM, inflammation redirects homocysteine to manage the inflammation itself. In other words, rather than homocysteine being used to facilitate the methylation process, it is used to make glutathione, an antioxidant our bodies make to help repair damage caused by inflammation. If you add in folate and/or B12 without first clearing the blockages caused by inflammation, your body will be unable to use these nutrients efficiently; and rather than helping you feel better, you might experience headaches, muscle spasms, and/or anxiety.
How Can You Tell If Inflammation Is Causing Problems?
There are several ways to check for inflammation, although none of them is absolute; if one test does not show inflammation, you should still check for other signs of inflammation. Some of the tests you can take are:
- Blood work, specifically to check for C-reactive protein, SED rate, mean platelet volume, and C4a.
- A Lyme Western Blot blood test from either a standard or specialty lab. iSpot Lyme is a test for cytokine patterns specific to Lyme.
- An EBV IgG antibody blood test, specifically “early antigen,” VCA and EBNA, to determine whether the virus has become active again.
- IgA/G food sensitivity tests will show you if foods are triggering inflammation and whether leaky gut is involved.
- Cortisol, measured throughout a day in four saliva or urine samples, can show us how the stress of inflammation is affecting your body.
- Specialty stool panels will show calprotectin, secretory IgA, and eosinophil protein, all of which indicate inflammation.
- 8OHdG is a urine test that indicates oxidative stress. Chronic inflammation creates oxidative stress, so this test gives us a sense of whether your body has been dealing with inflammation for a long time.
How Can You Get Rid of Inflammation?
There are no quick fixes when it comes to inflammation, so try not to feel overwhelmed. The best way to address inflammation is with a plan that is implemented over time. We need to show your body that it doesn’t have a reason to be constantly inflamed, and to do that, we need to create change on many levels:
- Start with dietary changes. Once you know your IgA/IgG food sensitivities, you can modify your diet to eliminate foods that are triggering inflammation, and start taking steps to heal leaky gut. My Stress Remedy program was designed exactly to help you with this step. It includes a template gluten- and dairy-free diet (two of the most common food sensitivities), as well as a protein powder you can use to make shakes, and supplements to help you get started with healing leaky gut.
- Next, you’ll want to work with a practitioner who can help you implement natural approaches (homeopathic, herbs, nutrients) to address viruses and/or Lyme without the need for prescription drugs, wherever possible.
- You then need to address any dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance in the gut). It helps to work with an experienced practitioner who can individualize your treatment plan based on the results of any tests you undergo. You may need to try a few different herbs, probiotics, and protocols to completely address the imbalances in your body. The main thing to know is that it is possible to re-optimize your gut bacteria, and it is worth it. Once you have balanced bacteria, you’ll be sending anti-inflammatory signals throughout your body.
Additionally, you may wish to incorporate anti-inflammatory supplements* into your daily routine, rather than resorting to medications. Key supplements to try are:
- Omega 3 fats – known to counterbalance inflammatory fats, and to promote “anti-inflammation” in the body.
- Curcumin – in formulas that have optimized absorption, curcumin has been shown to be as effective as anti-inflammatory medications, without the negative side effects.
- Boswellia – often taken in combination with curcumin, this also helps decrease inflammation.
- Rosemarinic acid – from rosemary, this substance helps direct the body away from inflammatory processes.
- Proteolytic enzymes – taken away from food, these enzymes then digest inflammation.
I hope you found this article useful and informative. If you know anyone else who could benefit from this information, please feel free to share this article. To make sure you don’t miss out on future articles, please subscribe to my weekly newsletter and I’ll send you a FREE e-book all about supporting your body to recover from stress – another essential step to optimizing methylation.
If you have an MTHFR mutation, I want to emphasize how important it is to address inflammation before starting to take folate, as is traditionally prescribed by mainstream doctors. If you are already taking folate, it may be okay, but it is still so important to decrease inflammation so that you can get the most out of the folate you are taking. And if you are taking folate and not feeling better, or if you feel worse, it is definitely time to get to the root cause of your inflammation.
In my practice, I often find is that once the inflammation is gone, methylation improves on its own. In some cases, additional folate and methylation support is no longer needed; everything starts working better. Cells are healthier, neurotransmitters are balanced, energy is boosted, the brain works better – all because inflammation is not bogging down the body’s natural processes.
If you would like to learn more, I’m offering a one-time, live, online class on November 9th, 2017, to help people like you who want to understand their genes a bit better, and to help you make a plan for how to address MTHFR and other genes in your genetic report. You can sign up for that class here. This is a rare opportunity to get input from an experienced naturopathic doctor about your case – and to work with a group of people with similar goals – at a low cost.
Or if you would prefer to work with me one-on-one, click here for information about my consultation and testing package.
There are ways to feel better, so I encourage you to invest in your health. You’re worth it!
30th October 2017
*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.