There has been increased chatter over the past few years about a gene called MTHFR and its potential link to infertility and miscarriage. It is estimated that 25% or more of the population has a mutation in this gene. Even though more research is needed in this area, anyone trying to get pregnant should have their eye on this.
What is MTHFR?
The gene MTHFR is responsible for converting folic acid (synthetic B9) into folate (the active form of B9). Those with certain mutations in this gene are unable to convert folic acid to the usable from of B9 – folate.
Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know how very important folate is to pregnancy and fetal development. What you probably haven’t heard is that low levels of folate, either from low intake or a MTHFR mutation, can lead to elevated homocysteine levels in the blood.
Why does your homocysteine level matter?
Well, in regard to your general health, elevated homocysteine levels increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Not good!
However, if you’re reading this blog you’re probably more interested in what it means for pregnancy. Well, increased homocysteine levels in the first trimester of pregnancy have been associated with pregnancy loss and preeclampsia.1 And, low folate levels are linked to birth defects, such as spina bifida.
Testing for MTHFR?
Your doctor can order testing to check for variants of the MTHFR gene that are indicative of a mutation. However, this test is not commonly ordered because it can be expensive and is not always covered by insurance.
You may want to discuss testing with your doctor if you have had multiple miscarriages, genetic issues with a previous pregnancy, or you know there is a family history of MTHFR gene mutation.
Getting Enough B9
We often get questions about supplementing with folic acid. Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9 that is found in most vitamins and fortified foods. The problem with folic acid is that it can be difficult (and in the case of MTHFR mutation, downright impossible) for our bodies to convert it to folate, the usable form of B9.
So, we recommend getting as much folate as possible from whole foods. Some folate rich foods include:
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and arugula
- Brussels sprouts
- Legumes such as lentils and beans
- Nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flaxseeds
- Citrus fruit
If you are taking a folate supplement, prenatal vitamin, or multivitamin make sure the folate source is in the form of methylfolate. Methylfolate is the bioavailable form of folate.2 So, even if you do not have a MTHFR gene mutation, you will still benefit from methylfolate. And, if you do happen to have a mutation…well, switching to methylfolate might be a game changer. Click here to get our prenatal vitamin recommendation, containing the most bioavailable forms of vitamins B9 and B12 (L-5 MTHF and methylcobalamin).