Interpretations of lab test results do not always give an accurate picture of what is going on in the body. In the case of a MTHFR gene mutation (which is very common), it is common for people to show as having plenty of B9, or folate, in the blood.
The problem with this result is that just because the B9 is in the blood, doesn’t mean it’s in a usable form that does what it needs to do in the body. In the case of MTHFR gene mutation, those who have been consuming the form folic acid rather than methyl-folate, will often show high amounts of B9 (folic acid/folate) in the blood, but they still show signs of deficiencies.
The difference between Folate, Folic Acid, and Methyl Folate
Since I first heard of MTHFR and that there is a difference between folate, folic acid, and methyl-folate, I have been on alert for news articles and scientific studies that talk about folate and folic acid, especially as it relates to autism.
Do you remember when people ‘studied’ saturated fat, but only they didn’t study saturated fat, they studied hydrogenated oil? And that study ‘showed’ that saturated fat was bad for people? But then later they found that hydrogenated oil was to blame, and saturated fat does not cause heart disease.
We’re making the same mistake- only this time it’s with synthetic folic acid vs naturally occurring folate.
This article just crossed my newsfeed, which states:
Researchers found that if a new mother has a very high level of folate right after giving birth—more than four times what is considered adequate—the risk that her child will develop a condition on the autism spectrum doubles.
This study makes sense when you take into account how people with MTHFR process vitamins:
- People that do not process folic acid well or at all will have a buildup in their bloodstream, yet it is not making it into the cells of the body because the enzyme needed to transport it is lacking.
- People that do not process folic acid well, but are still consuming it, will have trouble getting their body to absorb the needed folate in the usable form of natural folate or methyl-folate because it is confused or backed up trying to process the unusable folic acid.
- Lab tests can show what is in the blood, but if someone’s ability to absorb nutrients from the blood is different than what is considered normal, the data can be incorrectly interpreted easily.
What can we do about folic acid and MTHFR?
Always always always, avoiding synthetic attempts to mimic real food is your best health insurance policy.
In addition, you have to learn to read labels, and really understand what you are taking, especially in supplement form.
Read: MTHFR, Tongue Tie, and Autism:Why I Regret Taking My Prenatal Vitamin
The MTHFR/autism link is common (but not in all cases of autism.) If you are concerned about autism, and think that your family may have the MTHFR gene mutation you want to switch to a more easily absorbed form of both B9 (folate) and B12.
You also will want to avoid fortified foods and most vitamins. Foods to avoid include cereals, flours, and some juices. People with MTHFR cannot process the form folic acid well, or at all. Not being able to process folic acid messes up the metabolic process when we are ingesting similar versions of a needed vitamin that we cannot use.
I have talked to lots of moms who have children with special needs and/or autism who have seen drastic improvements when they (the moms) take methyl folate. They also see major improvements giving it to the other members of their family. B9/folate is a needed vitamin, and your body may well be starved for it.
I recommend Seeking Health brand vitamins:
Note, I do not take their recommended doses of vitamins. I recommend starting at the recommended dose, and then cutting by half every couple days. We don’t even take them every day any more, just one chewable twice a week or so.
See all MTHFR/Folic Acid Articles
Quick reminder: I am not a medical professional, this is not medical advice. I am just a mom who is trying to figure out what’s going on in my own family with the information I have available to me. And I want to share, in case it is helpful for you.
Folic Acid: Disaster for Your Baby's Health
Sign up here to get all 6 articles about MTHFR, Folate, Folic Acid. See how this relates to autism, tongue tie, and more. Easy to implement ideas- don't miss this essential information.
Just some comments — EVERYONE has MTHFR genes. There are over 50 genes associated with methylation, the two main MTHFR genes (A1298C and C677T) are the most popular.
Where issues come into play is when those genes carry the mutated “risk” alleles”.
Another thing to note is folate is just the generic term for B9. Even if something says it has “folate” in it, it could be in any form.
Methylfolate is the active form, folic acid is not. Folinic acid is derived from whole food sources so it can be utilized by those with the mutations.
Another issue with the absorption and utilization of B9 and B12 is megaloblastic anemia. (That is something I have).
With B12, you also want to avoid cyanocobalamin. The form that I have found that works best for me is adenosylcobalamin, which is sometimes hard to find but the Seeking Health B-complex contains a combination of that and methyl-cobalamin.
The four main types of B12 are:
Cyanocobalamin (avoid this!)
Methylcobalamin (most common “good” form)
Some folks don’t do well with the methyl form, and if that happens with you, don’t give up. Try some other forms. I do a combination (but avoid cyanocobalamin) and have found success.
Thanks Rebecca :) It’s hard for me to condense all of this down to where it’s easy to understand for those who haven’t heard of it before, so I end up leaving out details. Thank you for providing them!
That sounds like one piece of our puzzle. My daughter has (regressive) autism, and in the first trimester in pregnancy I was prescribed heavy doses of folic acid/B6 in order to help my severe “morning” sickness (I was hospitalised for 3 days for dehydration). They were afraid of spina bifida as I was losing weight and couldn’t stomach anything. However I stopped taking them after the first trimester and didn’t take any prenatals until I gave birth (didn’t trust them!)… So I’m wondering if it could still have affected my daughter? I restarted taking prenatals while breastfeeding, mostly for the omega 3… I later discovered I have the MTFHR mutation and so does she (and my hubby).
Regardless, these studies are a pure “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”… another way to make moms more confused and feel more guilty without giving clear guidance.
In defense of the study, we need to get to confusion in the medical world before we can get them to stop promoting synthetic folic acid. I think that my children would have been better off if I had taken the natural form of folate or methyl-folate when I was pregnant, but wht is done is done, and from here I’m just doing what I can :)
I enjoy your reliable information and share your website with my patients on a regular basis. As a physician I feel we must make a change toward removing synthetic folic acid from our food. As a mother of a newborn with MTHFR (and two other children who also have this SNP) I am wondering if you have any recommendations on an infant formula that does NOT contain folic acid? I was only able to BF for three months and now am having to switch to formulas but I have yet to find any one, even international, that do not contain folic acid. Thank you!
Hi, I don’t have much experience with formulas, but if I needed to give formula I would make one homemade. There are a few recipes online (I would google) that you can see what you’re comfortable with. I’ve seen babies fed raw milk formula thrive, though I haven’t used it myself.
After reading the study and contemplating the high B12 and autism correlation, I would think the mother is passing on her inability to detox (the excess B12) – which is autism (the inability to properly detox). The excess B12 could be from over-consuming, but most likely it is from the body not processing it.
Yes, I agree
How does one know if they have MTHFR mutations?
You have to have genetic testing done to find out. I only found out when they done testing because I lost 2 babies. That is also common if you have MTHFR. I also think the high dose of prenatal vitamins may cause someone with MTHFR to miscarry or in my case my babies would just pass away before birth.