Thoughts from Amy Neuzil, ND* Naturopathic Doctor, Author, Speaker, Teacher and Ally. And a bit of a goofball.
Category Archives: Healthy Mind
It doesn’t matter how healthy your body is, if your mind is struggling. Life is full of ups and downs but having a healthy mind helps you weather the storm with grace and joy. Your mind is so fantastically wonderful – you have the capacity to be joyful and fulfilled in your life.
This article is by Travis White of Learnfit.org. Thanks Travis!
Everybody wants to look and feel their best when the spring and summer seasons hit – after all, we all want to wear that bathing suit in public. Making the effort to improve both your mental physical health can go a long way toward reducing stress and increasing energy. Of course, the hardest part is getting started. There are plenty of easy tips that you can incorporate to improve your nutrition and up your physical activity that will have you ready for the warmer months in no time.
Boost your mental and physical health by getting outside and doing something you love.
Planning is the key to boosting Mental and Physical Health.
The best way to ensure success when it comes to improving your mental and physical health is to put together a detailed plan. When you start making changes to your diet or activity levels without a clear strategy, you are setting yourself up to fail. Writing down your goals, plans, and progress can be a very effective strategy for improving your health. Keep a journal of what you eat and what activity you do, and be honest so that you can look back at your successes and pinpoint areas of trouble as you move forward.
The spring and summer seasons are ideal for trying to make modifications to your diet to improve your health. Be sure to check out farmers markets that start in the spring, as these are a great resource for fresh, whole foods that are packed with nutrition. Focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats to keep you energized and satisfied throughout the day. Be sure to work on cutting out or cutting back on unhealthy choices such as sugary treats and fast food.
Exercise or Activity is a MUST for boosting Mental and Physical Health
Any plan for improving your physical and mental health needs to include regular, moderate exercise. If you don’t like the “E” word, then let’s call it “activity” instead. AZ Central recommends planning for at least 30 active minutes a day, at least five days a week. Add it to your calendar to help you commit to it. The time of day that you exercise is far less important than getting it done consistently, so consider whether your lifestyle best accommodates a morning, noon, late afternoon, or evening time slot.
Embrace activities that motivate you for the spring and summer seasons, things that you love to do. Focus on walking, running, swimming, biking, or playing in the surf. Experts also recommend incorporating some strength training at least a couple of times a week into your routine. You don’t necessarily need a gym membership or fancy equipment to do this. You can focus on exercises that use your own body-weight such as lunges, pushups, crunches and other similar activities to help you build your strength, adding in dumbbells for additional exercises if you’d like.
Small Lifestyle Changes will Greatly Improve Mental and Physical Health
To a large degree, improving your physical health will significantly improve your mental health as well. Focusing on quality nutrition in your diet will help to reduce stress and increase your energy, and the University of Michigan University Health Service notes that helps to improve your mood and decrease anxiety and depression.
The spring and summer months are the ideal time to focus on improving your physical and mental health. Working on improving your health doesn’t have to be overwhelming, as there are plenty of easy ways to incorporate moderate changes that ultimately will have a significant, positive impact. Create a plan of attack with measurable goals and focus on quality nutrition and regular exercise to boost your fitness and reduce your stress levels. Once you commit to lifestyle changes and see some success, you’ll be motivated to keep going and reap the rewards of your hard work as you embrace the warm months.
As promised, I want to give you some simple things to try for the fatigue and lack of energy that can be a big part of parenting – the mommy burnout. There is no doubt that parenting is the biggest fullest time full-time job there is, and to be clear I’m talking about daddy burnout too. You are the bottom line of responsibility and that can be a difficult weight to carry – especially when you’re up at 4:00 am for the fourth night in a row with a coughing child and you know you have to be functional at 7:30 for work. There are some things that you can do to help maintain your energy level and bolster the reserves. Too many parents forget to care for themselves while they are busy caring for baby.
It sounds too simple to be effective but B vitamin deficiencies are very common, especially in women. There are several B vitamins, but I think the easiest way to get them is in a B-complex, simply because the deficiency symptoms overlap and the functions overlap, so if you’re low in one you are likely to be low in others too. Make sure you’re getting a B-complex with 5-MTHF instead of folic acid because some of us (the MTHFR mutants) can’t convert the folic acid into the active form. Symptoms of B vitamin deficiencies include:
Fatigue, low energy, weakness
Depression, memory loss, difficulty thinking or brain fog
Rashes, cracking skin, seborrheic dermatitis
Anemia and elevated homocysteine in the blood.
If you are already taking a B complex but you’re still having fatigue one of the quickest pick-me-ups out there is B12 liquid or B12 sublingual. They can make a world of difference and give you an immediate energy boost. Again with the mutant problem – if you have an MTHFR issue or the related MTRR that changes the way you methylate B12 then look for the hydroxycobalamin or methylcobalamin forms.
Surprisingly, up to 75% of Americans are deficient in this common vitamin. In theory, we are able to manufacture vitamin D from our body’s cholesterol in response to sunlight. In reality, we just don’t get enough sunlight. Between skin cancer awareness, which has increased the use of sunscreens, sunglasses, and hats; and demanding schedules that don’t allow for outdoor time we are starved for this vital nutrient. Your doctor can test your blood levels and suggest a therapeutic dose based on those results. Generally, 2000IU per day is a good starting place. Vitamin D helps you with fatigue, depression, maintaining healthy bones, protecting against cancer and boosting your immune system in general.
Hormone Balance and Rebuilding
Pregnancy is one of those life events that literally takes everything you have and then some.
In terms of priority, your body will give your developing fetus nutrients instead of saving them for you in order to make sure that the next generation has a good start. This is a great system, just as long as you are taking care of yourself and working to get those nutrients built back up. It is best to work with your practitioner on this one because every woman is different. Some women notice declining thyroid function, some women develop blood sugar issues, for some women the adrenals bottom out and some women’s sex hormones never seem to recover. It is best to have a whole protocol specifically for you, but here are some basic ideas to get you started:
Shatavari – this ayurvedic herb is an adaptogen for female sex hormones. We spoke about adaptogens in a recent post, but this one helps to normalize estrogen and progesterone. So if you’re low, it boosts you up and if you’re excessive it calms things down. Amazing.
Iodine – this vital nutrient is often deficient in the modern diet, especially since a lot of people no longer use iodized salt because sea salt is generally healthier. It is found in high concentration in sea vegetables, but if you’re not getting a lot of those then it might be a good idea to supplement because pregnancy uses a lot of it – it’s vital to your baby for brain development – and women are often left deficient. Iodine is necessary for your own brain and also for healthy thyroid functioning so boosting your iodine can boost your energy too.
Magnesium – this mineral helps your body relax for a restful sleep and also helps your adrenals – your main get-up-and-go glands – to function. If you’re lacking it might show up as restless legs, restless sleep or muscle cramps.
Yes, I know. It sounds too simple to help, but mild dehydration is the biggest cause of fatigue, headache and the afternoon slump. If you’re trying to lose weight it’s good to remember that it’s also the number one cause of the “hunger” signal. Also, if you’re still nursing, then your body is using more than normal. Just remember to drink 8-16 oz of water every time you pass through the kitchen. It’s a small change that adds up to big benefits. Water is easy to forget to drink when you’re running errands, running around after toddlers, or just running in general. Take a bottle of water with you everywhere (please no BPAs and no plastic water bottles if you can avoid them – plastics release hormone disruptors which are the last things your body needs. I use a glass bottle, but there are great options in ceramics and stainless steel as well.) Drinking eight 8oz glasses per day is the general rule of thumb but always try for more.
Melatonin has to be one of my favorite things. This is the hormone in your body that makes you feel sleepy at the end of the day. It is also the hormone in your body that opposes cortisol (your wake up/stress hormone). For parents, this can be a godsend. I have seen so many parents in the clinic who seem to lose the ability to fall asleep easily because they are stressed, overwhelmed, thinking about problems or just can’t wind down for the day in spite of the exhaustion. Melatonin is a simple, safe quick fix that will help your body get into that sleepy place simply by taking it before bed. It also acts as an antioxidant for brain tissue, which is a great bonus effect. After all, protecting the brain is always a good idea. The standard dose is 3mg and if this isn’t enough it’s safe to double or even triple. Also if your baby wakes up at night and needs you, you will still be able to get up and respond (although you may be a little groggy). It’s a great alternative to sleeping pills and can really help you to maximize whatever sleep time you have.
We want parenting to look like this, but often it looks just like the woman in the video above. “They want everything you have “. Just remember that when you’re battling your own mommy burnout.
Homeopathy isn’t generally a one-size-fits-all type of medicine. It’s tiny doses of something that would cause the same symptoms if you took it in a toxic dose, which then helps your body to understand and move through that process. In a perfect world the remedy should be matched perfectly to your symptoms, but in the case of post-partum depression and typical mommy burnout stress and anxiety, this one is a pretty reliable win. Sepia helps with the irritability that comes with constant caretaking. The feeling that if everyone would just leave you alone for 20 minutes you might be able to function without snapping at them. The urge to cry, or run, or lash out because your kiddo is quite literally hanging on you and you really just need a minute. Those are pretty reliable parent feelings and sepia is a lovely, gentle aid. The 30C strength is sold commonly in health food stores and 3 pellets can be taken under your tongue as needed.
I know nothing fixes the overwhelming schedule, demands and stress of being a parent, but I’m hoping this will at least give you a little bit of help and support. It’s also a great reminder to me to remember that even though I’m busy being mom I get to have needs too. 🙂 Feel free to leave comments on how this is working for you, or if there are any areas that you really need support that I didn’t address.
I have a confession to make about this mommy burnout thing. It’s happening. It’s me. I’m writing this to myself, as much as anyone, simply because I’m the fortunate mom of a hilarious, joyful, loud, energetic 18-month-old who is teaching me all about mommy burnout. Historically I’m a workaholic and know all about other kinds of burnout, but I could always retreat if needed. Stop and regroup and rest because I was always choosing to work so hard. Now, not so much. Just like every other parent out there, the choice is no longer mine. I am often reminded of my childhood best friend and her family when I think of mommy burnout, mostly because she has three high-energy kiddos and I have learned a lot by watching her parent – um… especially on a group camping trip. Believe me, I can’t think of anything more vivid than three swimming, singing, climbing, jumping campfire-roasting kids and two dogs who follow them through all the muck that entails.
I am honestly awe-struck by how well some people, like Laura, juggle the responsibility of a full-time career and three busy kiddos at home, and I’d like to share some of the things that I observed in her that I think would be useful for the other moms I see (myself included). Don’t worry, my next post will also be health-related things you can try, not just parenting things. Mostly I want to say as long as your kiddo is fed and loved, you’re doing an awesome job. The rest really is mostly details. Just don’t forget to take care of you too. Also, to clarify, mommy burnout isn’t confined to mommies. It’s really parenting burnout. Lots of this is obvious, but that doesn’t mean you’re doing it so pause and take a minute to remind yourself how to be nice to yourself too. Here is what I’m going to call “Laura’s List for Avoiding Mommy Burn-Out.”
Important things are important – the rest can go hang. So, it is actually important to maintain discipline when your kiddo decides he or she wants to play with the hatchet and to stick to an absolute NO. It isn’t so important when they want to play rock band using a badminton racket instead of a guitar. Firm clear discipline involving action and consequences matters when something is important – like a threat to safety. It isn’t important when it’s just loud and fun. Save the big loud angry reaction for times when it’s necessary. If the kids are just being loud and unruly, like kids are, then don’t worry about it.
Don’t expect kids to be mini-adults – because they’re not. It is easy to fall into the habit of expecting kids to behave like adults, especially in places like restaurants. It’s easy to expect them to be quiet and sit still and have nice table manners, but the fact of the matter is that the things that matter to adults don’t matter to kids. This isn’t carte blanche to allow your kids to rampage through a restaurant, but it is a reminder to keep your expectations realistic – kids are kids and they are going to do kid things (and that’s the way it’s supposed to be).
Take time for you – nobody else will. The thing that impressed me most about Laura and her husband was that they both manage to take time for themselves even in a full-throttle 24 hour kid day. Laura is not (and never has been – I can attest to this) a morning person. She and her husband have worked out a system that involves him handling morning duties while Laura takes time to wake up slowly (usually with the help of a good book) and Laura handling most of the evening stuff while he gets to relax. I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen automatically and at some point, they both had to value themselves enough to establish ground rules. Lots of parents, especially new parents, forget that they matter too, and this is key for sanity.
Happy mommy means happier baby. Just remember that when you’re battling your own mommy burnout.
Nap when you can – whenever you can. Seriously. Lots of people have stigmas about day-time naps equating to laziness, but that idea needs to go right now. No matter how awesome your kids are they are still kids. They wake up in the night and need you, they fall out of bed, they have nightmares, they are just kids. Not only that, they often get up earlier than you do. Parenting means sleep is on short supply so learn to sleep whenever you can – whether it’s a 20-minute cat nap or a 2-hour nap while the kids are gone somewhere, learn to prioritize sleep more than housecleaning, extra work projects, and the like. the better you feel on a daily basis the more you will be able to accomplish, so sleep whenever you can and whenever you need.
Let your kids be kids without your input. This is a hard one for the parents who hover and helicopter around their children (as the child psychology books advocated for smarter kids with higher self-esteem). The point is, your kid doesn’t like it, it is debatable whether this helps them at all, and it will wear you down to the bone faster than anything else in the world. Kids learn and grow by making their own mistakes (even when it means skinned knees and bruised pride), by finding their own solutions to problems (even if there are better solutions out there) and by finding their own way through conflicts (even if that ends in tears and tantrums). You burning yourself out as a parent and micromanaging your child’s environment, relationships and emotions won’t help anyone and it’s the surest way to drive yourself (and your kids) crazy.
Remember your actual responsibilities as a parent and forget the rest. The basic obligations of parenting are the things you absolutely have to provide for your children and these are incredibly important. Make sure you provide these and the rest is just gravy. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to give gravy all the time – you get to be human too. As long as you give your kid the basics – food, safety, shelter, and unconditional love for them exactly as they are. Everything else is extra.
Eat. You need balanced meals too, not just the bites of things the kids leave over or the random items you can shove in your mouth between activities. Take time to eat real food including fruits and vegetables.
Maintain your own life, your own interests, and your own identity. Your kids are the biggest part of your life, but they aren’t your whole life and it puts too much pressure on them if you try to force them into that role. Also I see a lot of parents who end up “blaming” their kids for all of the ways that they themselves don’t feel fulfilled as a human being and for the things they “gave up” (even if the kid never wanted that in the first place) and that isn’t anywhere near fair. Make sure you are maintaining your own identity that isn’t based on your kids – it’s based on you and who you are and what you do as a person.
Get help when you need it. Nobody can do it all alone and you are no exception. Ask for help if you need it, whether that is from a daycare, a babysitter, a school, an after school program, your spouse, your family or whomever. Everyone needs a break every now and then and there is nothing wrong with that. You just have to remember to ask for help.
Support your body just as much as you would support your child’s if they were struggling. Your kid isn’t the only one who needs good medical care, good food, joy and good sleep. You do too. It doesn’t help your kids in any way for you to burn yourself out. Treat yourself just as well as you treat your children and it will all work out great.
Save yourself from mommy burnout (or daddy burnout). Here’s some friendly reminders.
Now – I completely recognize that this is all so much easier to say than to do because we all have a whole lot of real-life to deal with. I also think that when you’re wrapped up in 26 hour days and running on no sleep it’s easy to forget the basics, so this is a friendly reminder to everyone out there who is struggling to be the best parent they can. Just remember sometimes it’s really enough to just be there, keep your kid safe, and allow the chaos to happen.
Amazing Adaptogens: Powerful Stress Busters from Nature
by Helen Wells
Expensive new treatments promising to turn back the hands of time are constantly on the market, yet often, the most efficient weapons against stress, ageing and disease, can be found in nature. This is the case of ‘adaptogens’, which comprise a number of plants and roots and which have in common one amazing quality – the ability to boost our ‘non-specific resistance’ to ageing, illness and tiredness. They are called ‘adaptogens’ because of their ability to adapt to our body’s specific needs, helping our system counter anxiety and stress gently, without any jolts or sudden changes.
Adaptogens: A Not-So-New Phenomenon
Adaptogens may sound new to us, but they have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, to boost energy and increase resistance in the face of stressful situations. Today, they are used in many settings, including top drug rehabilitation centers, where an integrated approach to healing is employed. Thus, to battle the anxiety and stress that arises when one attempts to detox or withdraw from harmful addictions, natural remedies are as vital as humanistic remedies. A wide range of therapies are being used, including holistic therapies such as yoga, compassion-based therapies and of course, adaptogens. The fascinating book, Adaptogens. Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, notes, “Adaptogens are important supportive therapies for patients experiencing drug withdrawal regardless of whether they are quitting legal habits such as cigarettes, alcohol or coffee, or illegal drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy or amphetamines…”
Schisandra rubriflora, by Scott Zona at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, UK. This Adaptogen is one of the best natural stress busters out there.
The Unique Synergy of Adaptogens: Natural Stress Busters
Soviet scientist, I.I. Brekham, explained why adaptogens are so powerful: it’s not just the combination of chemicals, vitamins, acids etc. which are present in adaptogenic plants and roots that are important – so, too, is the unique way all these components are combined. Brekham’s research revealed that some of the many benefits of adaptogens include protection from radiation damage, a boost in antibody levels, increased vitality, natural detoxification of the body, enhanced repair of proteins in cells, and greater endurance. Thus, adaptogens are an excellent ally when it comes to battling ageing, both on the external level and internally. Brekham and other Soviet scientists noted that when we are young, our body is able to adapt naturally to stressors such as harsh weather, pollution etc. but as we grow older, we lose this ability – this is where adaptogens can help – by enabling us to resist the stressors that cause illness.
Essential Requirements for Adaptogens
To be considered an adaptogen, a plant or herb must demonstrate the following characteristics:
It must be non-toxic when taken at a standard dosage.
It must increase our ability to fight non-specific stressors. (i.e. be a natural stress busters)
It must have normalizing abilities (i.e. it should be able to reduce blood pressure in someone with high blood pressure, and increase blood pressure in those whose levels are too low).
Some of the most widely researched and lauded adaptogens include:
Panax Ginseng: Health expert and best-selling author, Leslie Kenton, notes that this type of ginseng, which boosts the immunity, should be taken in root form – the most powerful are grown in Korea or China and they are best taken when they are at least six years old. If you are unable to find Panax Ginseng in root form, opt for the supplement form, but bear in mind that supplements often have additives and preservatives.
Siberian Ginseng: This adaptogen, also known as Eleuthrococcus senticosus,a relatively new discovery compared to Panax Ginseng, is known as the ‘devil’s shrub’. Its roots are also used to resist illness and fatigue, though its effects take a few weeks to build up. Some of its benefits include increased endurance, enhanced sleep and memory, and improved sports performance.
Ashwaganda: Known as Indian Ginseng, this adaptogen regulates the immune system and is also used to quell the symptoms of anxiety. It has been used for over 2,500 years in Indian medicine and is often used to lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the body. Its efficiency has been proven in randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. For further information, see the study carried out by Chandrasekhar et. al., published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine (2012).
Rhodiola Rosea: This wonderful extract has the ability to raise or lower cortisol levels in the body, as required by each individual.
Schisandra chinensis: This “five flavor fruit” in Traditional Chinese Medicine is so named because it balances all of the healing principles attributed to each flavor. It has been shown to balance liver function, increase endurance and stamina, and act as a powerful antioxidant.
Withania somnifera: This potent adaptogen is especially helpful to moderate the effects of stress on sleep. Generally it helps protect your body from the non-specific effects of stress, meaning it helps your body to deal with stressors and not get ill.
Adaptogens are a great ally for people of all ages; not only do they have no or minimal side-effects, these natural stress busters can help stave off the numerous effects of stress, both on a physical and mental level. Since they regulate the immune system, lower stress levels and soothe pain, they truly are Nature’s powerful healers.
Thanks again to Helen Wells for contributing this piece – Adaptogens are part of my frequent routine because they feel so nourishing on every level. Any time I need a little extra energy, a little more oomph, a better night of sleep or to take the edge off stress. – Amy.
Overmethylated vs. undermethylated seems to be one of those things that everyone defines a different way, so let’s talk about it and see if we can bring some clarity. The terms overmethylation and undermethylation make the most sense to me as the Walsh Research Institute uses them. These are general physical tendencies based on the sum of your genetics, nutritional status and body burden. There isn’t one gene or genetic defect alone that can account for them – so just because you have an MTHFR C677T mutation doesn’t actually mean you’re over or under methylated (although it would be one factor that might push the balance to undermethylation). Dr. Walsh describes one’s methylation status as being like a tug of war between opposing factors. Many of those are genetic and some are nutritional or environmental.
This is less common than undermethylation. According to Dr. Walsh’s research, 70% of the population are normal methylators, 22% are undermethylators and 8% are overmethylators. Overmethylation in this context means that the methylation cycle as a whole is sped up, or downstream reactions that use SAMe (the ultimate product of the methylation cycle) are compromised in such a way that there is too much SAMe floating around wanting to methylate something.
Clinically overmethylators are more likely to have agitated or anxious conditions. Frequently panic or anxiety attacks (64% of panic/anxiety clients at the Walsh Research Institute), paranoid schizophrenia (52% of paranoid schizophrenic clients at WRI were overmethylators), ADHD (28%), behaviour disorders (23%), depression (18%). Depression can occur in under, normal or over methylators but 18% of depressed clients of Dr. Walsh are overmethylators.
Mutations most likely to contribute to overmethylation are AGAT, GAMT, CBS and MT. MTHFR mutation usually pushes towards undermethylation (but I myself am compound heterozygous MTHFR and an overmethylator) Remember that the presence of one or more of these mutations isn’t enough to say if you’re an over or under methylator. The combination of all of your genetic factors as well as your nutritional state must be taken into account. The best way to determine is through symptoms and traits.
Other contributing factors are impaired creatine synthesis. This is because Approximately 70% of the SAMe from the methylation cycle is used by creatine synthesis, so if this is impaired the SAMe is used more slowly. This can be due to genetic factors (AGAT or GAMP) or due to deficiencies of arginine or glycine. Also impaired cystathione synthesis, or other polymorphisms in methyltransferase SNPs that account for the rest of the SAMe use.
Overmethylation leads to excessively high activity of dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain.
If this reminds you of you, you could be overmethylated. A photograph of Robin Williams taken by Michael Dressler in 1979, later used as a cover photo for Time magazine to highlight Williams.
Symptoms and traits of overmethylation include:
High energy, restless, must move and fidget
Verbose or talkative
Often high artistic or musical ability
Antihistamine intolerance (makes anxiety or restlessness worse)
Overly empathetic with others
Non-competitive in sports
Tendency towards food and chemical sensitivities
Less likely to have seasonal allergies
Histamine Intolerance (or HIT – this is essentially a food sensitivity to high-histamine foods)
Dry eyes and mouth
Adverse reaction to SSRI drugs, SAMe or methionine (typically all make anxiety or depression much much worse.
An easy way to picture this type is by using Robin Williams as an example.
Is Overmethylated the Same as Over-supplemented?
No, although it seems that in a lot of popular literature on the subject people use the term interchangeably. So often you’ll see someone say that you might be “overmethylated” if you are taking too much 5-MTHF or SAMe. I feel that these are different things entirely. If you have a tendency to be overmethylated then certainly you would probably feel worse taking something like SAMe, but even without that you are still an overmethylator (in my opinion). Likewise taking too much 5-MTHF, doesn’t make you suddenly “overmethylated” it just means you’re taking too much.
Okay! I’m Overmethylated. Now What?
Interestingly the best way to balance the consequence of overmethylation, is still 5-MTHF. This seems strange, because it is also the answer if you’re’ undermethylated, but the effects are actually coming from a different mechanism. Folate actually reduces activity at serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine synapses. 5-MTHF is the active form of folic acid, and you can also get it from foods, especially if you have some trouble taking the supplement. Trouble taking the supplement is surprisingly common, although I think less common clinically in overmethylators (in my experience) than in undermethylators. Niacin or niacinamide can also be helpful for overmethylators as they quench some of the excessive methylation. Again, start slowly.
I Want to Start Taking 5-MTHF. How Do I Make This Easy?
Any time you start taking 5-MTHF, or increase your dose, there will be an adjustment period. Here’s a whole post on it. Just remember, start with a low dose and increase really slowly. This is changing the way your neurotransmitters work and doing some heavy detox work, so it’s vital not to overdo it because that is crazy-making. Start low and go slow.
Finding out you have an MTHFR mutation can be exciting, in it’s own strange way, because all of a sudden there is hope that you can actually help yourself and fix how you’re feeling, so it really feels like being kicked in the gut if you start taking 5-LMTHF and the methylfolate makes depression worse. Have no fear, there is an explanation and also some possible solutions. Read on my friends.
We recently talked about the terms “undermethylated” vs. “overmethylated” and although there aren’t great lab tests to show your status, typically you can determine your general tendency through their symptom picture. Depression, however, can be ambiguous because it can happen in people who are undermethylated, overmethylated or people with totally normal methylation. Although having the MTHFR mutation pushes many people into the undermethylated category, having the mutation itself isn’t enough to tell you if you’re under, over or normal. I myself am a compound heterozygous MTHFR mutant, but happen to have other genetic factors that make me an overmethylator – go figure.
5-L methyltetrahydrofolate (5-LMTHF) is suggested for everyone with a methylation issue – over or undermethylators. It’s the first line of defence because it can actually help both groups to balance their methylation in different ways. Also for depression specifically, folic acid or 5-LMTHF supplementation can be extremely helpful even without a known methylation issue because folate deficiency is a common cause of depression – so really for most people folate is beneficial. There is one group, however, who doesn’t respond well at all that that is undermethylated people with depression.
Let me clarify – anyone starting 5-LMTHF for the first time, or even increasing a dose, may notice some side effects for the first few days. Starting to methylate differently can be messy and so this first few days isn’t enough time to know if you actually have a bad reaction. This is why we talk so much about starting with a low dose and easing your way up. If you’ve started with a low dose and you’re easing into it, but your depression gets worse and stays worse beyond the first week or so, then chances are you have undermethylated depression. This means methylfolate, folic acid and even folate rich foods are probably always going to make your depression worse. Here’s why:
The link between Methylfolate and Serotonin
This is complicated because typically boosting your methylation cycle also helps your body to make more neurotransmitters via BH4 (we don’t need to go into it, but if you want a refresher you can read about it here). So 5-LMTHF is supposed to fix depression by boosting levels of serotonin, dopamine and other key neurotransmitters. The problem is that 5-LMTHF, folic acid and folate all have a second effect on neurotransmitters, which is to depress serotonin through an epigenetic mechanism.
Epigenetics is essentially the study of how external factors (like nutrition, stress, oxidative damage, etc…) influence the way our genes express themselves. Folate and folic acid, according to the Walsh Research Institute, have an epigenetic effect on the SERT transporter. The SERT transporter helps to reuptake serotonin after it’s been released. SERT is the target for many pharmaceutical antidepressants (SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). SSRIs work because they interfere with SERT and so serotonin stays active longer, which means you get more benefit from this happy neurotransmitter. Methylfoate, folate from foods and folic acid, while they increases serotonin production through BH4, also increase SERT via an epigenetic effect. This means they help your brain to clear out serotonin faster, thereby reducing the amount of serotonin that is available for you to use. Essentially this makes folate the anti-anti-depressant. Sigh.
As a brief reality check – Walsh Research Institute is convinced this is happening (see the link to their presentation above), many MTHFR websites are convinced this is happening, and it certainly explains a lot of what I’ve seen clinically, but for whatever reason I can’t find any published research that says definitively that this is happening so please take this with a grain of salt.
Methylfolate Makes Depression Worse For Me – Now What?
Don’t worry – you have a couple of options. If you’re sure this isn’t just your body adjusting to methylfolate (the symptoms last beyond the first week of moderate supplementation) then it’s time to check to see if you fit the profile of an undermethylator. If that sounds like you, and your depression is getting worse, then let’s look at your choices.
SAMe – Ultimately the end product of the entire methylation cycle is SAMe, so it can be a helpful work around for people who can’t take 5-LMTHF. This is where all that methylfolate is going and although it doesn’t entirely cover the necessity for methylated folate, it does help with the depression. This is partly because SAMe is a very slow acting serotonin reuptake inhibitor – just like the pharmaceutical drugs only much less powerful. As with any methylation issue, start with a low dose and work your way up.
Methionine – This amino acid is a direct precursor to SAMe in the body, and uses the MATI/II enzyme (coded by the gene of the same name) to go through the conversion. Because this turns into SAMe it can be a much more cost effective way to get the same benefits, which again is as a slow acting serotonin reuptake inhibitor. The only situation in which that isn’t going to be helpful is if your MATI/II gene has an issue or something is interfering. Most people find methionine to be effective though, so this can be a far less expensive solution. Again, start with a lower dose and work your way up.
St. John’s Wart – This has nothing to do with methylation, only with serotonin. Happily, St. John’s wart shows similar effectiveness to SSRI medications for major depressive disorder, with significantly fewer adverse events. Here’s the research study, from the Annals of Family Medicine that compares St John’s Wart (referred to by it’s latin name, hypericum) with SSRIs and other anti depressant medications as well as placebo. Go nature!
It should be said that while SAMe and Methionine will help to augment the methylation cycle, they still aren’t providing folate of any kind, so they won’t protect against the more folate dependent issues like neural tube defects in babies and issues with pregnancy and fertility. If you have undermethylated depression and are considering getting pregnant it is vital to work closely with a doctor who can help you to get the folate that you need and also help you to offset the depressive symptoms that might come with that. Even though methylfolate makes depression worse, in pregnancy it might still be necessary so please consult a physician.
MTHFR mutation discussions can quickly turn into Greek and the topic of overmethylated vs undermethylated MTHFR is one of the Greekest. It seems like no two resources on the internet are talking about the same thing when they talk about it and so overmethylation and undermethylation are strange, kind of meaningless words because at the end of the day it feels like nailing jello to a wall. So let’s see if we can sort some of this out.
Whose Idea Is This? I’m Following The Walsh Research Institute
The terms overmethylation and undermethylation make the most sense to me as the Walsh Research Institute uses them. These are general physical tendencies based on the sum of your genetics, nutritional status and body burden. There isn’t one gene or genetic defect alone that can account for them – so just because you have an MTHFR C677T mutation doesn’t actually mean you’re over or under methylated (although it would be one factor that might push the balance to undermethylation). Dr. Walsh describes one’s methylation status as being like a tug of war between opposing factors. Many of those are genetic and some are nutritional or environmental.
This is the most common state. According to Dr. Walsh’s research, 70% of the population are normal methylators, 22% are undermethylators and 8% are overmethylators. Undermethylation indicates that the methylation cycle as a whole is slowed down enough that the end product, SAMe, is typically inadequate and thus causes symptoms.
Clinically undermethylators are more commonly autism spectrum (98% of autism spectrum clients at the Walsh Research Institute), antisocial disorder (95% of antisocial clients at WRI were undermethylators), schizoaffective disorder (90%), oppositional defiant disorder (85%), anorexia (82%), and depression (which can occur in under, normal or over methylators but 38% of depressed clients for Dr. Walsh are undermethylators).
Mutations most likely to contribute to undermethylation are MTHFR (C677T especially, but also A1298C), MS, BHMT, MAT and SAHH. Remember that the presence of one or more of these mutations isn’t enough to say if you’re an over or under methylator. The combination of all of your genetic factors as well as your nutritional state must be taken into account. The best way to determine is through symptoms and traits.
Other contributing factors are histamine overload and protein deficiency, as well as frank deficiency of folate.
Highly competitive? You might be undermethylated
Symptoms and traits of undermethylation include:
Highly competitive at sports or whatever matters to them
Addictive tendencies (more likely to be addicted with less exposure than a normal methylator)
High sex drive
Tend towards high accomplishment and usually a high achieving family
Appear calm and well controlled (possibly over-controlled) but inner tension is high
Is Undermethylated the Same as Under-supplemented?
No! Although it seems that in a lot of popular literature on the subject people use the term interchangeably. So often you’ll see someone say that you might still be “undermethylated” if you aren’t taking enough 5-MTHF. I feel that these are different things entirely. If you have a tendency to be undermethylated then certainly you will probably need to take 5-MTHF, but even once you’re taking enough you are still an undermethylator (in my opinion), you’re just taking the right protocol. Likewise taking too much 5-MTHF, doesn’t make you suddenly “overmethylated” it just means you’re taking too much.
Okay! I’m Undermethylated. Now What?
Absolutely the best way to enhance the methylation cycle is by taking 5-MTHF, or 5-L methyltetrahydrofolate. This is the active form of folic acid, and you can also get it from foods, especially if you have some trouble taking the supplement. Trouble taking the supplement is surprisingly common, typically it is an adjustment reaction to actually enhancing the methylation cycle because this changes neurotransmitter levels, encourages detoxification and encourages more than 80 reactions in the body that are methylation dependent. So some adjustment reaction when you’re first taking 5-MTHF is normal and actually a good sign that things are changing in your body. There is one BIG EXCEPTION TO THIS, and that is if you are undermethylated and have depression.
I Want to Start Taking 5-MTHF. How Do I Make This Easy?
Any time you start taking 5-MTHF, or increase your dose, there will be an adjustment period. Here’s a whole post on it. Just remember, start with a low dose and increase really slowly. This is changing the way your neurotransmitters work and doing some heavy detox work, so it’s vital not to overdo it because that is crazy-making. Start low and go slow.
HELP! I’m An Undermethylator and I Have Depression.
My next post is going to be all about this because UNDERMETHYLATORS WITH DEPRESSION DUE TO LOW SEROTONIN CAN’T TOLERATE 5-MTHF, FOOD SOURCES OF FOLATE OR FOLIC ACID AT ALL. That’s a really big deal! Depression is typically characterized by low serotonin states and unfortunately 5-MTHF (or any folate or folic acid). The short explanation for this is that folate, 5-MTHF and folic acid all increase the activity of the transport protein that re-uptakes serotonin into the cell. Essentially this is the opposite of a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (like prozac), it’s a serotonin reuptake promotor – meaning it makes the serotonin you have far less effective because it clears it out more quickly. There will be a whole post on this – I promise!