How the MTHFR gene affects pregnancy
The VITL Nutrition Team / 28 Aug 2018
Whether you're pregnant or want to be someday, this is why it's worth investigating your DNA to find out how your MTHFR gene could affect your unborn.
Nowadays, most people are aware that women are advised to take folic acid (400mg daily to be precise) whilst trying for a baby and also throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is because low folic acid has been shown to increase the risk of serious birth defects such as spina bifida. Thankfully, supplementing with folic acid (also known as folate or vitamin B9) is a simple step that helps to significantly reduce this risk.
But if we are all truly unique, do these requirements apply to all women? Well, yes - all women require folic acid during these crucial months, however some women require it in a slightly different form than others in order to actually absorb and utilise it, and the way you can find out which type you require is with a DNA test.
So how does a DNA test help?
Aside from revealing your genetic predisposition to a range of vitamin deficiencies as well as showing you how you're likely to respond to dietary fat, caffeine, alcohol, and different types of exercise, the VITL DNA Nutrition Test will also reveal the activity of your 'MTHFR' gene.
We all have two copies of the MTHFR gene, one inherited from each parent. Each copy can be normal or have a defect, known as a mutation. The normal MTHFR gene provides instructions for making a protein which plays a crucial role in converting the folate from the food we eat into methylfolate, the ‘active’ form which can be utilised by our body.
A common mutation in the MTHFR gene reduces the activity of this protein. Approximately 10 – 15% of people have both copies of the gene affected by this mutation. If that includes you, then you’re very likely to have trouble converting folate from the food you eat into a useable form for your body. As such, you're advised to supplement with the synthetic form of folic acid, as this form is already in it's usable, methylated state.
Additionally, you'd be advised to ensure your diet is abundant in folate-rich foods. You can do so by including foods such as leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli and lettuce), asparagus, legumes (e.g. chickpeas, kidney beans) and animal protein.
Can I take a DNA Nutrition Test if I am already pregnant?
Yes! Absolutely. Your DNA (aka your 'genetic code') never changes, even when you are pregnant (unlike your vitamin and cholesterol levels). Your genetic code is like a blueprint that you are born with - it will decide everything from your eye colour to body type. Although we cannot change our genetic code, we can change how our genes are expressed. Your environment (where you were brought up, the food you eat, the exercise you do, the stresses you encounter and so on) will affect how they are expressed. For example, you may have a genetic predisposition to be thin but if you lead a very unhealthy lifestyle with no exercise and lots of junk food then it is possible you may still put on weight (you just may not put it on as quickly as someone who is already genetically predisposed to be overweight).
In the case of folic acid, you will discover which version of the MTHFR gene you have, which will help you decide which type of folic acid your body is most likely to absorb best. Therefore, not only is it safe to have a DNA test when you are pregnant, it is advisory that you get one done.
For more information on how the VITL DNA Nutrition Test works, click here.