Table of Contents
Many of us know someone who had normal or even low cholesterol who had a heart attack. You may know a non-smoker who got lung cancer, an intelligent person who develops Alzheimer's, a couple who just can't get pregnant (and who may be suffering multiple miscarriages), or an entire family that gets diabetes they can't seem to control no matter what they do.
Usually doctors and health gurus place the blame for these "diseases of modern civilization" on the people who have them. It's their fault they ate too much sugar, or they did maintain low cholesterol, or they didn't stay mentally active, the self-proclaimed experts say. But in an astonishingly large number of cases the real problem may be an inherited inability to use the B vitamin folic acid that can be easily treated with a supplement.
Five Letters You Need to Remember, MTHFR
Folic acid is a vitamin, a substance we have to get from food, that we can't live without. Folic acid (or, in its food form, folate) is essential for the formation of the spinal column, the urinary tract, and the structures in and around the lips and palate during embryonic development.
This vitamin is key to maintaining healthy nerve function throughout life, for avoiding a condition known as neuropathy, and it offers some protection against colon cancer. And deficiencies of folic acid are associated with Alzheimer's disease, stroke, and heart disease.
Just about no one in North America is deficient in folic acid.
The problem with folic acid is that from 2% (among persons of African descent) to 22% (among Italians and Hispanics) of people have mutations in the gene that codes the protein for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, or MTHFR mutation, an enzyme that acts as a cofactor for folic acid. Without this enzyme, the body cannot efficiently activate folic acid into the methylfolate form it actually uses, and only1 to 10% as much of the active form of the vitamin is available.
It might seem like a simple solution just to take 10 to 100 times more folic acid than most people need. The problem with this approach is that overdosing ordinary folic acid overloads the bloodstream so that the tiny amount of folic acid that actually gets converted into its active form can't enter the bloodstream of the brain or go into the nerves or other organs that need it most. Too much of this good thing makes the genetic problem even worse.
See Also: Vitamin B-Complex: Health benefits
A Simple Supplement Solution
Fortunately, people who have MTHFR mutations can take the activated form of the vitamin, methylfolate. Sometimes people who have diabetes, or cardiovascular disease, or cancer feel enormously better after taking the supplement for just a few days--and it's available for less than $10 a month if you shop around. But not everybody reacts to methylfolate the same way.