When I first saw this acronym and heard about MTHFR from my dear friend Cathleen my first thought was, "you have the Motherf***er disease?" I mean, if someone texted you the letters "MTHFR" you could think that was the word they were communicating, right? Hm...
I was admittedly embarrassed that my first gut-shot interpretation of this acronym was such a dirty word and did not share that with her for a while, but as her symptoms progressed and she shared more of her story with me it actually seemed like a reasonable correlation so I did tell her eventually. Luckily she found it pretty amusing so we are still friends and general health-focused mommy co-conspirators.
[Picture by chagniel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
The more I learn the clearer it becomes that MTHFR is a missing piece of a huge portion of the population's health puzzle - its estimated that 30% of people carry the gene mutation though not everyone expresses it (high stress events such as pregnancy, childbirth, trauma etc. can epigenetically trigger the change) - and the more motivated I feel to learn more and explore how Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can help.
My goal with this post today is simply to raise awareness, communicate my (limited) experience in treating MTHFR with Acupuncture in the Portland area, and ask for any and all local resources and connections for people with MTHFR or suspect MTHFR.
What is MTHFR? How does it affect me? The short answer.
If you don't know what MTHFR is, the short answer is that it is a gene mutation which results in a lack of the MTHFR (Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase) enzyme which deals with methylation in the body. Methylation plays a role in how the body deals with environmental stressors, how it detoxifies, adapts and rebuilds. MTHFR is therefore essential for processing a number of things in the body, primary among them B vitamins such a B12 and Folate. There are many resources online that give you the long answer so I won't belabor that here. If you want more details try one of these links below:
Loving Our Guts
Life With Spirit
A MTHFR genetic disorder can cause or contribute to a myriad of symptoms and disorders including:
If you want to know if this could be affecting you, the best way to find out if you have this genetic glitch is to get simple and inexpensive genetic testing done. It costs $99+ if you do it independently of your regular physician depending on the vendor you go with. Here are a couple resources for testing:
23 and Me $99
Lab Testing Direct $149
Holistic Health International $495 (much more comprehensive test)
If you have a combination of the disorders above, or especially if you are fatigued all the time, have tried taking B vitamins but find that they don't help or make you feel ill, you could very well have an MTHFR gene mutation and testing might help you get answers and guide you on a new path to wellness. Oh yeah, getting tested can make you feel less like a crazy person too because you aren't insane or just overly stressed - you may have a genetic disorder that you can do something about.
Knowledge really is power and even though it can be scary to think that you might have a genetic disorder, it is better to get tested and find out sooner rather than later. If it is MTHFR, lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Testing can also help you avoid a misdiagnosis of something else from your western physician such as Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue which might herald pharmaceutical interventions that may or may not be favorable to your constitution over time.
Current Treatment for MTHFR
Treatment for MTHFR is varied depending on the severity of any individual's symptoms, or so it seems from what I am learning slowly but surely. It is clear, however, that there are a number of lifestyle changes that can help you manage the cascade of symptoms, heal, recover and find a new healthier more manageable baseline.
There is an exhaustive list HERE on the MTHFR.net site. It starts with a list of 30 dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to improve your health with relation to MTHFR and is based on Dr. Lynch's experience treating patients with this disorder and I trust his recommendations.
Some of the items on this list are understandably specific to MTHFR, such as supplementing specific forms of B12 and Folate and limiting your protein intake to 0.7 grams per kilogram of weight per day, but many others are good recommendations for basic health and for decreasing general inflammation in the body such as:
1. Find a physician - MD, ND - who is experienced in treating this disorder
Your symptoms and journey, or that of someone you know or love, with MTHFR is going to be unique. You need a guide to recovery and care who is going to listen to you and recommend reasonable interventions based on your symptoms and your lifestyle.
MTHFR & Acupuncture Treatment
At this point there is no research or evidence supporting acupuncture treatment for MTHFR specifically. I have literally found one article which mentions an increase in MTHFR mutation found in patients who have migraine with aura, which mentions acupuncture as a known favorable treatment for migraines - but does not specifically link acupuncture with MTHFR.
I have one confirmed MTHFR patient right now, one who has been told by her ND that MTHFR is highly suspect but isn't recommending testing and a dozen more that I suspect based on their symptom pictures. I don't consider myself an expert, but I'm setting out to become one so I want to share what I see and how I think acupuncture can help. I hope to have the opportunity to treat more confirmed MTHFR cases in the coming years so I can compile further data and case studies.
As a 3,000+ year old traditional medicine, Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine has a lot going for it. While no single mechanism of action has been identified by western science for its efficacy, there have now been over 10,000 scientific acupuncture studies. It is increasingly accepted that acupuncture is worthwhile in the treatment of pain, in down-regulating the sympathetic nervous system or "fight or flight" reaction, in treating migraine, PTSD, fertility, gut issues from inflammation to constipation, diarrhea and gut motility disorders and more.
Even this short list shows a correlation between these accepted issues for acupuncture treatment and the list of disorders that MTHFR can produce. This, combined with the hallmark of Chinese Medicine as a tradition which treats every individual uniquely based on energetic diagnosis, makes it a natural fit for the MTHFR road to recovery.
Thus far I feel that my clinic experience shows the same. My confirmed MTHFR patient often comes in with insomnia, back pain, anxiety and nervous energy, high stress, headache and fatigue. I generally see her walk out of treatment with a different gait and posture and she reports feeling better than when she walked in. There have been a couple instances of a detox-type reaction to treatment where she will feel worse for a day but when it happens it does pass and there has always been a net positive response over the course of the week in-between treatments. I see her sleeping better, feeling less anxious and experiencing fewer headaches in particular.
My highly probable yet unconfirmed MTHFR patient right now saw a marked difference after just one treatment. Her symptoms are highly stress related/stress activated - high stress type A personality and high pressure job, neck and shoulder pain, insomnia, anxiety, gut issues clearly increased with stress - and she walked out of treatment feeling relaxed which she found very surprising with a marked decrease in her pain.
Stress is one of my primary specialties, both from a lifestyle perspective and a nervous system perspective. I work hard with my patients to help them identify stressors in their life and make a plan to deal with them while using acupuncture and Chinese Medicine including herbs, dietary and lifestyle changes and general supplementation to create change physically, energetically and emotionally.
In the case of MTHFR, I feel like the MTHFR itself is such a huge stressor - having it, dealing with the lifestyle changes that accompany it and the healthcare journey associated with it - that one of the best things I can provide is a safe space to be heard, to be present, and to receive treatment that doesn't require you to actively *do* anything in the moment.
Part of acupuncture is just resting on the table and letting the needles do their work to rebalance the body energetically - i.e. stopping for a moment and just allowing yourself to *be*. When you are pursuing a health journey like MTHFR which has a steep learning curve, you can feel like you are spending all your time running from one test and doctor and obligation to next with your already limited reserves dwindling as you try to put the puzzle of your health and your needs together. The experience of acupuncture is one of relaxation and restoration - hard to come by in the heat of the healing journey, but so necessary.
As I continue to see and treat more MTHFR patients I will write more about the specific types of energetic diagnoses I see and treatments that are successful, but at this point I don't have enough cases to draw any correlations or conclusions. Suffice to say that at this stage, I feel that the theory and practice of Chinese Medicine can be a strong addition to managing MTHFR on many levels - from the mental emotional piece to the physical symptoms themselves - and I am clearly seeing results in my practice from the limited cases I can draw on.
Share Your Resources - Come In For Treatment!
Do you have MTHFR or know someone who does? Can you share specific resources or health care professionals you feel know their stuff in the comments section? I am looking to build a good referral network for MTHFR patients and cases and I would love to know who you feel is really listening to and working for you in the local area.
I am also interested in treating more MTHFR cases so I can compile data and information to share about Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in the management of this disorder. I feel very strongly that Chinese Medicine is a great fit, but I need more experience and data. I would also love to be a partner in your care or that of a loved one with this disorder. I bill lots of insurance!
I have not been tested myself and I know I handle B vitamins well so I believe I am low on the possible MTHFR mutation spectrum, but I do have IBS gut issues, gluten intolerance and a strong history of Heart Disease in my family. Its possible that I have poor methylation ability myself so I am going to pursue testing as well. We'll see what I find out.
If you have resources or a story to share please post it in the comments section or email me directly - I'd love to hear from you - and stay tuned! As I learn more I will continue to post on my blog about MTHFR.
Thank you for listening,
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.