I have been following the work of Dr Ben Lynch ND for about 2 years now and recently watched a webinar on the topic of MTHFR and Thyroid Disorders with Dr Lynch and another naturopathic physician, Dr Alan Christianson. For those who don’t know who Dr Lynch is, he is the founder of MTHFRSupport.com and the CEO of Seekinghealth.com. Check these sites out, as they contain incredibly valuable information as well as very high quality nutritional supplements.
What is MTHFR?
MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) is an enzyme encoded by the MTHFR gene. This gene plays a very significant role in the methylation pathways of the body. If an MTHFR mutation is present (it is estimated that at least 50% of the population has this mutation), and the mutation is being expressed, a person may become deficient in 5 methylenetetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). Another name for 5-MTHF is folate, a type B-vitamin. Methylation plays an important role in key body processes and deficiencies can have significant health effects.
- Detoxification: may lead to an accumulation of environmental toxins, such as heavy metals
- Hormonal metabolism: may lead to an increase in certain hormonal metabolites
- Neurotransmitter (brain chemicals) production: may lead to imbalances and can manifest as anxiety and depression
- T-cell production: these are the cells crucial for proper immune reactions to invading pathogens
- Protection of our DNA: may predispose to certain types of cancer
- Cardiovascular health: may predispose to a heart attack or stroke
- Glutathione production: a decreased level of this molecule leads to increased free radical damage and premature aging
- Thyroid health: the methylated B vitamins are needed to convert T4 to T3
- Pregnancy: You’ve likely heard of women being advised to take folic acid during pregnancy to ensure that their DNA is copied accurately. But if you have one of the MTHFR SNPs, that folic acid supplement may do you more harm than good since you are unable to metabolize it
How that you have a basic understanding of what methylation does in our bodies, here are the takeaways from this webinar:
There were findings from several studies presented and overall, the takeaway was that there is a direct link between MTHFR defects and all types of thyroid disorders (including Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Grave’s Disease) as methylation is necessary for the conversion of T4 to T3.
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is necessary for proper folate metabolism and is essential to patients with MTHFR defects. A paleo type diet (often used as a therapeutic diet for a wide range of health conditions) will decrease the intake of riboflavin since most processed foods and grains are avoided, which are often fortified with riboflavin. Thyroxine (T4) regulates the conversion of riboflavin to FAD (active form), which is needed for proper function of the MTHFR enzyme. This is a drawback for many patients who are on T3 therapy only. Therefore, thyroid status does affect the expression of the MTHFR gene by modifying FAD creation. MTHFR can also be linked to thyroid cancers and according to Dr Christianson, it is the fastest rising type of cancer today . He recommends ultrasound screening for all patients with thyroid disorders.
Having excess thyroid hormone (as in Grave’s Disease or hyperthyroidism) you are producing more FAD, which then pushes the MTHFR enzyme faster and reducing homocysteine. We want adequate levels of homocysteine as this is needed to produce SAMe and glutathione. SAMe (comes from the conversion of homocysteine to methionine) is the main methyl donor in the body and is needed to turn genes on or off properly. It also produces DNMT1, DNMT3A and 3B (DNA Methyl Transferase Enzymes), which are needed for embryo development and cancer prevention. The opposite may be true for patients with deficient thyroid hormones leading to elevated homocysteine, which has many negative health consequences. Therefore, both too much and too little thyroid hormone can affect the MTHFR enzyme.
- Get tested for MTHFR
- Supplement appropriately and wisely
- Diet & lifestyle modification
- Toxin avoidance
- Restrict synthetic folic acid (read labels!)
Don’t freak out about this information, but get proactive and make sure you see a doctor who understands biochemistry and nutrition. According to Dr Christianson, an expert in thyroid health, both conventional and naturopathic doctors improperly treat thyroid conditions leading to a state of imbalance. This has been my experience so I completely agree with his statement. Lack of adequate medical treatment for thyroid conditions is what drives me to learn as much as I can about thyroid health and this is definitely an area I would like to become an expert.
Here is a link the the recording of the webinar: