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Suboptimal methylation due to MTHFR gene variations is one of the most prevalent health concerns in the country, affecting over 50% of the U.S. population—and yet, it’s one of the least discussed health issues, even among health care providers. At mbg, we’ve decided it’s time to break the silence and spread awareness about this common genetic disposition that broadly affects Americans.
But what are methylation and the MTHFR gene, anyway? Methylation is an essential biochemical process that affects (no exaggeration) every cell and system in the body. The MTHFR gene is a key player in the methylation cycle. It codes for the MTHFR enzyme, which converts folate (from food) and folic acid (from fortified foods and certain kinds of supplements) into the active 5-MTHF form that is needed to keep the folate, methionine, and ultimately methylation cycles all running smoothly.*
As mbg’s vice president of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, explains in a musical analogy, methylation is like a beautiful symphony when it’s healthy and optimized. However, when individuals have an MTHFR gene variation, their body isn’t able to convert folate and folic acid into the bioactive 5-MTHF form as easily, which is a lot like if a large portion of the string section of an orchestra were off rhythm and unable to play along in sync with the rest of the instruments.
In musical terms, the MTHFR gene variations mean that “Try as the strings may, their timing is off, and they can’t achieve the intended collective sound to support the other sections of the orchestra (folate and methionine cycles) and achieve the beautiful, optimized symphony (methylation),” explains Ferira.
From a biological standpoint, suboptimal methylation can lead to unchecked homocysteine levels and have profound implications for cardiovascular health, the central nervous system, detoxification pathways, reproductive health, and more—and those with an MTHFR gene variant are more prone to these health concerns.