Kristina Masuga, MD
It’s all about methylation.
Methylation is one of the few basic “motors” we have running things inside of us. It’s a collection of enzymes that make up a system with the goal of adding methyl groups to various substances to perform different functions.
We need methyl groups to handle many important things:
- Killing viruses and bacteria
- Getting rid of histamine & treat allergy symptoms
- Controlling brain chemistry & mood
- Getting rid of toxins that cause cancer
- Eliminating alcohol and Tylenol
- Making DNA for new cells: pregnancy, muscles, etc.
Like any motor, this enzyme system needs a fuel, but instead of gasoline, this system runs on folate, so for methylation to work well in your body and do the things we need it to do, you must provide folates. Folates are found in nature in:
- green, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts)
- cabbage, cauliflower
- and lesser amounts in eggs and meats.
Natural whole wheat flour and wheat germ contain folates, but earlier in history it was noticed that breads lasted longer and had less mold when the flour was bleached– but the bleaching process also stripped it of its nutrition, including its folates. After eating bleached flours for years (and many without access to gardens with green veggies) many Americans developed folate deficiency. In an attempt to rectify this problem, vitamins were added back to the flour after it was bleached. Unfortunately, it was assumed that the synthetic form of folate– folic acid— could be used for our methylation just the same as the naturally occurring folate. This turned out to be very, very wrong.
It is true that a little bit of folic acid can be used to perform the methylation we need…but the synthetic version binds to the receptor about 20 X stronger than natural folate can. As a result, the synthetic version, folic acid, effectively binds up the enzyme so the natural folates you might eat have little chance of “getting in” to the methylation system at all! Basically, the synthetic form folic acid gums up the methylation cycle…somewhat like diesel would if it was added to a gasoline motor again and again.
So why would the government and medical community suggest we add the synthetic version if it’s so bad? Well, it turns out that when it is studied and they add a little bit of folic acid for the first time, it initially moved the methylation “motor” forward a bit —similar to how a little diesel can be added to a gas motor and it appears to work at first. So in a group of people studied that were already low on folates, adding some of the synthetic version looked better than adding nothing at all. Since it looked helpful (at first), the FDA began to require the synthetic vitamins be added to all the bleached flour since 1998. Also, everyone was encouraged to take the synthetic vitamin—especially pregnant moms. Even before 1998, name-brand cereals were all “fortified” with many synthetic vitamins including lots of folic acid.
Soon, folic acid was in every food item that contained flour– breads, pasta, cereal, cookies…everything! Eventually our methylation systems were jammed up with folic acid, preventing the natural folates from getting in and we started to see the toxic effects of this synthetic vitamin. We now see more allergies, more cancers from toxins, more brain chemistry problems, and longer colds & frequent infections. Today the newer studies are demonstrating that the more folic acid one takes in, the more likely you are to have breast cancer, preterm delivery, Autistic children, and much more.
For some, it is hard to believe that such life-changing information wouldn’t be broadcasted loudly for everyone to hear right away. But history is filled with stories of medical doctors failing to learn new things and failing to make appropriate changes.
Current medical care is essentially based on medical providers learning new things brought to us by pharmaceutical companies. We have an amazing knowledge of diabetes now because may drugs could be sold to help diabetes…so we learned more details about diabetes. Similarly, our understanding of thyroid activity is quite primitive– because there has only been one medication approved to treat hypothyroidism since 1960’s…and the institution of medicine really hasn’t learned much about the thyroid since.
Based on the old data from the 1990’s, Canada just started requiring the addition of folic acid to bleached flour. Britain did notice that more recent studies show a very negative effect of folic acid, so they haven’t made any mandates yet. And if you look internationally, we can see that out of all the developed countries, we have the worst preterm delivery rates, sickest pregnant moms, highest autism and Aspergers, cancers, and much more. If you look at a graph of these problems over the years, the incidence of these problems follow right along with how long we have been adding folic acid to food.
So how do we avoid poisoning ourselves with folic acid?
In the U.S. manufacturers are required to add it to all bleached wheat flour products. The toxic result is called enriched flour.
So all bread, cereals, and pastas made with enriched flour will have significant amounts of folic acid. Take a look in the ingredient list (not the nutrition portion). If you start to see “niacin” & “riboflavin” in the ingredients, you will eventually see folic acid mentioned as these are just some of synthetic vitamins added. Almost every over-the-counter brand of vitamins contains the harmful synthetic version of folate–folic acid– including those vitamins we loved as a kid—Flintstones. Be sure to check every vitamin or supplement in your home including protein bars & supplement shakes.
What to eat?
In general, if you eat organic you will avoid most synthetic vitamins that might include folic acid. Some argue they can’t be sure of how genuinely organic a food really is. Regardless, there should not be any folic acid vitamins added and that’s what matters most. There are occasional exceptions I have found— a product raised or grown organic but later it gets enriched before packaging– but that would be listed as organic enriched flour. (Unfortunately, Stacy’s pita chips are made with organic enriched flour and so are several organic breads in Whole Foods, etc.)
Another help is to eat things that are labeled gluten-free. Gluten-free means it was made without any wheat or barley to help those allergic to gluten. IF a food is not made of wheat, the flour wouldn’t have been bleached and thus it should not be enriched. Therefore, you will almost always avoid folic acid when you eat a gluten-free diet. (This explains why many people feel much better on a gluten-free diet but are told they don’t test positive for gluten problems.) You might have also heard that many “low carb” diets help autistic children, those with ADD, depression, etc.? Low carbohydrate diets will have less enriched flour containing folic acid.
The best form to take folate as a vitamin will be a version of methyl folate. (notice the methylation?) MethaFolin is a patented version of folate that is healthy and does not jam up the methylation cycle–it may be abbreviated as 5 MTHF (methylated tetra hydro folate).
Some vitamin brands I know that are always safe:
- Living Fuel
- Life Extension
- Pure Encapsulations
- Seeking Health.
There are many more safe vitamin companies, but you will have to read the label to be sure!
Now let’s address MTHFR gene…commonly known as the “mother fucker” as it gets more popular. MTHFR is just one of the enzymes in the methylation cycle needed to process folates and make the methyl groups we need to keep our bodies healthy. Enzymes contain lots of genetic code to work correctly and if you inherited a version that is “different”, your enzyme may not work as well. Having one of these differences in your genetic code is called a “snp”—it’s a single polymorphic nucleotide—that you inherited from your parents.
When we look at the enzymes that perform methylation, the most common “difference” or snp to be tested for is at the 677th position in the long code of the MTHFR enzyme –because genetic studies suggest it makes the most difference in how well a person can methylate. If you have a variation of this enzyme, you will experience a reduced ability to methylate…no matter how clean you eat! If you inherited ONE variation in this, you are said to have a significant MTHFR “mutation” since one variation of the 677 will result in 30% less strength of your methylation cycle. If you have TWO variations in your MTHFR (one from mom, one from dad), you will have a very poor functioning MTHFR enzyme. Two variations will result in about 70% less ability to methylate… at your best! Similar to an engine that only has 100 horse power instead of 300+– it won’t matter what fuel you put in, it will never be as powerful of an engine.
Now remember all the important things you need methylation for? Now imagine that you have inherited a reduced ability to methylate no matter what due to a MTHFR snp and then you jam it up with “just a little” folic acid. Pizza, or a bowl of cereal, or a Subway bun. Now you are dead in the water. You just jammed up your ability to clean yourself of toxins, viruses, allergies, make healthy brain chemistry, etc.
Also– imagine you have 70% less ability to methylate because you have 2 bad versions of the MTHFR enzyme (which is also necessary for making DNA)… and you are just a fetus in your mother’s uterus trying to make DNA to grow. Imagine she is doing as her doctor instructed—she’s taking lots of folic acid. OH NO! How can you stay in that uterus for 9 months? (Typically, if you had 2 MTHFR variations– you didn’t– you got out early.) Now you still can’t methylate very well and you might even be fed formula with folic acid. Or you are getting folic acid in mom’s breast milk because she is eating it not knowing how bad it is for either of you. Then you go to the doctor to get some shots—and they give you 4 or 5 or 6! Your body thinks you are being attacked with bacteria and viruses…you can barely methylate due to your MTHFR variations…how can you possibly develop your brain also while mounting an immune response to the shots? This process explains the dramatic increase we have seen in Autism over the years that mothers always relate to vaccinations since pregnant mothers have been taking vitamins as instructed. (Refer to Dr. Ben Lynch and Suzy Cohen for more on these topics.)
Specifically, having two of the 677 variations of MTHFR snps results in serious problems with clotting. These folks MUST stay away from any folic acid in order to prevent stroke, heart attack, pulmonary embolus, and repeat miscarriages. I have seen this in many of my patients. And, once a patient with 677 MTHFR variation stops ingesting folic acid and starts getting folates in their system, they no longer need anticoagulants to prevent a second event. (There are exceptions for those who have other inherited clotting disorders which a hematologist will often help identify).
So in summary, avoid FOLIC ACID as much as you can but eat lots of natural folates!
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