This post is for all the young people out there. I’ll be 34 years old in just a few weeks, obviously still somewhat young myself, but I certainly wish I had become better informed about my health and more conscientious when I was in my early teens. I encounter many parents who are ordering genetic testing for their children or who have kids with health problems; they are working tirelessly to better the quality of life for their offspring. Some teenagers are already becoming proactive and taking charge of their health at younger ages. These are wonderful developments. I’ve heard rumors that the state of California will soon commence routine testing for MTHFR gene mutations at birth, which will ensure that parents not only have this knowledge but are also aware of the implications of MTHFR and other gene mutations in their own lives.
We often talk about the cumulative effects of toxins on the body, which may explain why, for example, women with MTHFR have one or two successful pregnancies and then struggle with later ones. Or why people who have had MTHFR their entire lives never notice any health problems until they reach middle age. If the methylation processes aren’t functioning properly, toxins build up and cause damage that can lead to disease. I’ve talked about toxins before: these include everything from chemicals to bacteria and viruses that overwhelm the body when they cannot be removed properly. Weakened immune systems are unable to fight off these foreign elements. So it isn’t necessarily the MTHFR that causes the illness. It’s the environmental toll on our bodies – from folic acid fortification in food to chemical pollutants to lousy diets – that overwhelm our systems and cause us to become sick. Not knowing that you have MTHFR means that you might not take steps to protect yourself.
Changes we make and actions we take with regards to our health when we are young may be even more important than those we make when we are older. Getting into good habits with regard to diet, exercise, sleep and what products we use are especially important. Of course you can make changes when you are older, but they have less of an impact than those made in the younger years. It is never too late to live healthier but taking care of your body early on is like buying insurance. Obviously we did not have as much knowledge about MTHFR when I was growing up, but finding out my genetic status would have been my first step. And knowing I have MTHFR, I would have been more vigilant about the following issues.
Have good nutrition.
This one is huge. Growing up, my mother and grandmother (who were in charge of the meals) were very health conscious. I wasn’t fed fast food or microwave dinners. Instead I ate a lot of fruit and vegetables, home cooked meals and healthy snacks. We didn’t even eat out in restaurants that often. Therefore I feel that I got a great start in life and that probably set me up for success in terms of my health. I was lucky to not notice too many adverse effects of my genetic mutations as a youngster. Of course, when I reached the age of 16 and began eating out more often, I didn’t always make the best food choices. Suddenly I could have fast food if I wanted it or candy or junk food. Unaware that the genetic chips were stacked against me, I never thought about watching out for things like processed food or conventional produce. “Bad” eating habits that I got into when I was in college and throughout my twenties would be one of the first things I would take back if I could.
If you’re young and you consume sugar, fast food, processed food, artificial sweeteners and the like, or if you never pay attention to what you put in your mouth, please consider re-evaluating these habits, whether you have gene mutations or not. Poor eating habits set you up for digestive health problems that will compromise your immune system along with nutritional deficiencies that will become detrimental to your overall health.
I still can’t believe that I ever smoked cigarettes. I cannot stand the smell of cigarette smoke now and will go out of my way to avoid people who are smoking so I don’t have to breathe second-hand smoke. But even though I haven’t touched a cigarette in several years, I remember smoking as a teenager and into my mid-twenties. I think I am most sad about this behavior because it was so unnecessary. Smoking does not make you look cool. It does not make you thinner. It does not help your body to de-stress. What smoking does do when you are a teenager is affect you in worse ways than it does an adult because you are still developing. If you don’t believe me, just check out this resource from Teen Smoke Free that outlines just what you are doing to your body when you smoke. In 2013, I can’t believe that anyone would even smoke cigarettes anymore and it makes me so sad when I see people with them in their hands.
Re-consider hormonal birth control.
Even if I didn’t have MTHFR mutations, I wouldn’t take birth control pills or hormonal forms of birth control. As I have an interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), I’d like to present the TCM view on birth control as something to consider. I still suffer from deficiencies in the systems mentioned, which I believe to be the results of several years of Pill use. I go to acupuncture weekly to assist with these problems. Now this is just the opinion of TCM for every woman, not singling out those who have MTHFR gene mutations. Consider this article discussing the impact of birth control pills on women who have the MTHFR mutation. Not only does the Pill reduce the levels of folate and B12 in the body, it also puts you at a higher risk of stroke and blood clots. As stroke and clotting risks are higher among those who have MTHFR, a consideration of these risks must be made when deciding whether this form of contraception is appropriate, especially among those with homozygous mutations. All hormonal forms of birth control are contraindicated for those with MTHFR. Obviously this is a very personal decision for women, but knowing the dangers I feel I must bring it up on this blog.
Curb your drinking.
I’ve never really been a big drinker. By that I mean that drinking really doesn’t necessarily appeal to me even though I don’t abstain from having it sometimes. When I was on the Pill, alcohol would very often make me sick to my stomach. I would pay dearly for just about every session I had out with friends. I now know that this was probably the result of a combination of effects from my having MTHFR and methylation being blocked by the combination of the Pill and the alcohol. When I tried the Nuvaring, which is also a form of hormonal birth control, my husband and I were living in Paris. If we went out for dinner and shared a bottle of wine, I would get serious numbness in my lower back and had pain there as we walked home. I can’t say scientifically that the MTHFR/Nuvaring/alcohol combination was the cause of this strange health problem, but when I stopped using the Nuvaring, those symptoms went away. When I stopped taking the Pill, I never got sick to my stomach from a glass or two of wine.
But I digress. I am trying to warn young people against excessive alcohol consumption, especially if they have MTHFR gene mutations. Drinking when your body is developing has adverse effects on brain development and hormones, along with other risks. Remember that when someone has MTHFR, their body’s detoxification processes are impaired, especially if he is folate deficient. So this is something to keep in mind when considering the harm that can be caused to your body when you drink because alcohol is a toxin.
I wish that I had been less of a worrier when I was younger. I wouldn’t think twice about putting my body through stress over thinking about a problem or pulling all-nighters to get projects done. Perfectionism was a real problem for me and I now know that wasn’t healthy. Over time, stress takes its toll on the body, which can lead to problems like adrenal fatigue and gut issues. So if you’re young, it’s best to nip that stress in the bud and get into healthy coping habits. This guide to stress in young people has important information that can help. People with MTHFR are more susceptible to stress so it is especially important for us to keep our minds and bodies stress-free.
Don’t be passive about your health.
I could have been much more proactive about my hypothyroidism growing up. It took 33 years for me to start questioning my doctors and get myself adequately medicated for my condition. I am kicking myself for that. I am not around enough young people to know whether they are skeptical of the medical establishment as so many adults are or are becoming today. But it is never too early to become interested in one’s health. I think children with chronic illness are quite well-informed by their parents regarding their health issues, but for those of us who don’t really consider ourselves “sick,” there is less of an incentive to pay attention to health and prevention. I hope that more young people will become interested and vigilant about preventative medicine and more aware of our increasingly toxic environment and how to keep themselves safe. Obviously this is especially important for young people with methylation gene defects.