nosh magazine (issue 5) | Page 15

nosh magazine FOLATE FOLLIES: THE MTHFR GENE Nutrition expert Kate Gudorf explains the MTHFR gene and its potential impact on your health. ver wonder why some people have brown hair and some blonde? Or why some people are tall and others short? Our genes are responsible for our differences and our genetics determine more than just the way we look. E Genetic variations may also lead to differences in the way we metabolise, absorb and utilise food. For example, variations on a gene, known as the MTHFR gene, can cause differences among people in the way they use folate, a B vitamin that plays an important role in the formation of DNA and cell division. That’s why the need for folate increases during pregnancy, a time of greatly increased cell division and turnover. Research has shown that people with specific genetic variations of the MTHFR gene have lower levels of folate in the blood and higher levels of homocysteine. In contrast, high levels of homocysteine can place someone at a higher risk for several conditions, like cardiovascular disease, hypertension and neural tube defects in pregnancy. Other conditions, which may be linked to genetic variations on this gene include irritable bowel syndrome, depression, anxiety, insomnia, schizophrenia, bi-polar and migraines. What do we know about the MTHFR gene? About 2 to 16 per cent of the white population has the genetic variation, making their bodies less able to use folate. The good news is that through minor dietary measures, someone with low MTHFR enzyme activity can increase their blood folate levels and reduce plasma homocysteine levels. People with low enzyme activity should aim to meet the RDI for folate each day, or 400 micrograms per day. A dietitian is critical in helping people with low MTHFR enzyme activity plan a diet that includes enough dietary folate. A dietitian may also be able to direct individuals to the right type of folic acid supplement, which may be necessary for some people to meet their body’s needs for folate. Who may benefit from MTHFR genetic testing: • women looking to conceive or are pregnant • people with heart disease or a family history of cardiovascular disease or blood vessel disease • people with anaemia • people with high homocysteine levels • people with coeliac, liver disease, Crohn’s disease or cystic fibrosis • people at risk of poor nutrition. If you suspect that you may have low MTHFR enzyme activity, book in for an appointment with a dietitian who can test for low MTHFR enzyme activity. They can then plan a diet based on the results of these tests, which is important as early intervention may help to prevent lifelong illness. N References 1. Am J Clin Nutr-2001-Vollset-499-500. 2. J Nutr. 2003 ;133 :1272-1280. 3. J. Clin. Invest. Volume 98, Number 9, November 1996, 2174–2183. 4. Department of Health and Aging and National Health and Medical Research Council, Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, 9 September 2005. 5. J. Clin. Invest. 1996. 98:2174–2183. 6. Department of Health and Aging and National Health and Medical Research Council, Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, 9 September 2005. KATE GUDORF, APD Learn more at: website | profile Kate is passionate about good food and health and she works with individuals as well as large and small groups. Kate also conducts group nutrition seminars and cooking demonstrations as well as writing about food and nutrition topics. 15