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My Experience with Genetic Testing, Folate, and Depression

There is an emerging field in health called nutrigenomics, which is the study of how nutrition affects our genes.  Diet may help prevent or treat certain chronic diseases depending on one’s own individual genetic makeup.  This gives new possibilities to using personalized nutrition, and that one day, your dietary recommendations may be based on genetic testing.Although the future is not quite here, there is an aspect of individualized nutrition that is now possible to test through a genetic test called 23 and Me.  I took this test last fall and learned that I have a homozygous (double copy) genetic mutation in the gene that codes for the enzyme called MTHFR.  MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrfolate reductase (say that 5 times!) and this gene is found in chromosome number 1. So what is the big deal about finding a genetic mutation in a strange sounding enzyme?

It turns out that a mutation in MTHFR is linked to (but not necessarily the cause of):
• Birth defects: spinal tube defects, cleft palate, tetralogy of Fallot
• Infertility
• Cancer
• Neurological Disorders – MS, Epilepsy, Autism
• Mental Disorders – depression, mood swings, bipolar, schizophrenia
• Drug Sensitivities – nitrous oxide, methotrexate
• Chronic conditions – Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue

The best news about this information is that supplementation and dietary changes can be made to overcome the limitations in this genetic mutation.  I (Dr. Nari) started taking methylfolate and methylcobalamin and have found my seasonal affective disorder (SAD) to be very much improved.  Moods in general are improved and I am happy to find a simple solution using a safe nutritional supplement.

There have been research studies on using folate for depression, but the results were not consistent.  It seems that instead of giving folate to everyone for depression, it makes sense instead to test for the genetic mutation and that might further clarify whether you might be a more likely candidate to improve depression using methylfolate and other nutrients.

So if your curiosity is peaked, there are various labs that test for the MTHFR gene.  I happened to send in a saliva sample using the test kit from 23 and me (www.23andme.com), however, I now have questions about their privacy policy and collection of data.  Blood tests are also available at our clinic.  I have vastly oversimplified this extremely complex topic, so for more information on MTHFR, the excellent website by Ben Lynch, ND, is an amazing resource: www.mthfr.net.