Most people with Lyme disease have come across information about the MTHFR gene, and its possible mutations. Should you get tested to see if you have a mutation in this gene? If you do, are you at risk for decreased function in various systems of the body? It’s worth looking deeply into this topic and consulting with your doctor before you decide to supplement on your own as part of your Lyme disease treatment protocol.
What is the MTHFR Gene Mutation?
Each of us receives two copies of the MTHFR gene, one from each parent. MTHFR genes code for the production of the MTHFR enzyme (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase), an enzyme that catalyzes a process called methylation. Methylation is a biochemical transfer of atoms critical to the efficient creation of molecules we depend on every day, including various neurotransmitters, hormones, and the body’s master antioxidant called glutathione. These molecules affect the function of many systems in the body, including brain function, detoxification, cellular energy production, and immune cell creation. (Sign me up!) It’s easy to see why proper methylation is important for health, and why it’s helpful for healing from Lyme disease.
Variants on MTHFR genes are common. Up to 50% of the population carries gene mutations on one or both MTHFR genes. Most Lyme specialists agree that the expression of MTHFR mutations can contribute to susceptibility to the disease, and can present challenges to healing.
It can be helpful to know if you have an MTHFR gene mutation. A 23andme saliva test tells you within weeks — you can order one online. If you have one or two MTHFR mutations, and especially if you’re healing Lyme disease, you may choose to do further testing to see if you have biomarkers suggesting that your MTHFR mutations are being expressed.
Not all genes or their mutations are expressed all the time. Just because you have a gene mutation doesn’t mean it is active in your body. Ask your doctor about lab biomarker tests for methylation to make sure your methylation processes seem normal. If your methylation does look compromised, you and your doctor can decide how best to silence your gene mutations, by increasing nutritional support, and decreasing environmental triggers such as toxic exposure. You can also discuss how to support methylation with supplements. This may speed and assist Lyme disease treatment.
Methylation Support Supplements
1. Glutathione: Methylation is necessary for the production of glutathione, which is considered the body’s master antioxidant. Glutathione is extremely important for healthy detoxification, and we all know how necessary detox is reducing Lyme disease symptoms.
Glutathione is found in high concentrations in every cell in our body. It assists with clearing reactive oxygen molecules, as well as eliminating toxins that cause oxidation such as heavy metals and pesticides. Glutathione also helps clear the organic detritus left behind when Lyme bacteria die off in treatment by assisting with phase 1 and 2 liver detoxification pathways. As if this weren’t enough, glutathione also aids mitochondrial function and cellular energy production.
If your cellular methylation is compromised, you might consider glutathione supplementation. Glutathione is best supplemented by IV through a functional medicine practitioner. Unfortunately, glutathione IVs are expensive. However, it’s possible to supplement glutathione orally, though, it is less effective than IV. For better delivery to your cells, look for liposomal glutathione, and make sure you ask your practitioner for reputable brands.
Another option is to take the amino acid precursors to glutathione known as NAC, or N-acetyl-cysteine. NAC is an easily available, inexpensive way to help your body create its own glutathione.
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2. Bioavailable folic acid or vitamin B9: Folate is the form of vitamin B9 naturally-occurring in foods. It’s necessary for many processes in the healthy body, including neurotransmitter synthesis. Folate is found mostly in leafy green veggies (drink your green smoothies, people). In order to be used in the body, folate must be converted in the digestive system to its active form, 5-MTHF, or L-methylfolate. Look familiar? That’s right: The MTHFR enzyme and methylation is essential to this conversion.
If your methylation is compromised, it may be difficult for you to convert folate (or its synthetic form, folic acid) to its active, bioavailable form. If you have an MTHFR mutation, you and your doctor can consider supplementation with L-methylfolate.
3. Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is also necessary for many processes in the body, including proper central nervous system function and detoxification. B12 is found in animal products such as seafood, meat, and poultry.
The active form of vitamin B12, methylcobalamin, is synthesized in the digestive system. Yes, yet again, methylation is required for the synthesis of the bioavailable form of B12. If your methylation is compromised and your B12 levels are low, talk with your doctor about supplementing with methylcobalamin.
Many companies make methylated B vitamins, and compounds that assist with methylation in general. It bears repeating: As you explore supplementation for compromised methylation, work with your doctor. Monitor your vitamin levels as you go, and make sure you are responding well. Done correctly, supplementation may speed your recovery from Lyme disease, help you detoxify, improve your mental health, and increase your overall wellbeing over the long term.
Shona Curley lives and works in San Francisco. She is co-owner of the studio Hasti Pilates, and creator of the website www.redkitemeditations.com. Shona teaches meditation, bodywork and movement practices for healing Lyme disease, chronic illness and pain.
1. Pizzorno J. Glutathione! Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. 2014 Feb; 13(1): 8–12.
2. Institute of Medicine. 1998. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/6015.