Cardiovascular disease

What the MTHFR!

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Ever heard of MTHFR?  It’s a somewhat suggestive acronym for an important enzyme in the body used to convert folic acid into a useable form. It’s been getting a lot of press lately because about 50% of the population has a mutation in the genes that produce this enzyme, potentially leading to a whole host of common symptoms and health complaints. This enzyme (called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase or MTHFR for short) is extremely important for a process called methylation. Methylation takes place in the body over a billion times a second and is required to:

  • process and eliminate toxins;Folic Acid graphic
  • produce cellular energy;
  • create neurotransmitters (which can affect mood and memory);
  • produce internal antioxidants important to protect the body;
  • build and maintain DNA, cell membranes and myelin (which coats our nerves so they function properly); and
  • promote effective immune function.

Methylation is also needed to reduce the level of homocysteine in the body. Increased homocysteine is a known cardiovascular risk factor. Another very important thing impacted by this mutation is pregnancy. We know it is important to take folic acid to prevent neural tube defects, however, if you have this mutation, folic acid may not be as effectively utilized by the body. It is now thought that this un-metabolised folic acid could accumulate to toxic levels in genetically susceptible people, increasing the risk of miscarriage and other birth defects.

Poor functioning of MTHFR is associated with around 60 different health conditions, including diabetes, infertility, anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, cancer, cardiovascular disease, insomnia, allergy, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and dementia.

There is a simple, inexpensive test you can take to see if you have this genetic mutation which naturopaths can order.

The good news is there is much you can do to lower the impact of this gene mutation. The most important thing you can do is to eat your greens!  They provide you with naturally occurring folates which are more easily utilized in the body than the cheaply produced, synthetic folic acid form used in so many supplements. This is the safest way to ensure you are providing your body with useable forms of these important vitamins as overdoing supplements containing activated or methylated forms can potentially lead to other health problems. Therefore it is important to see your naturopath who can prescribe the correct forms at the correct dose according to your needs and genetic make up. They can also directly assist your detoxification processes and improve your general health and vitality which in turn reduces the expression of any detrimental gene mutations such as MTHFR.

Stressed about your cholesterol?

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For years we have been avoiding fat in our diets wherever we can, believing that by doing so, we will keep our all important cholesterol number down, saving us from cardiovascular disease. New findings suggest it is not quite as simple as this and that cholesterol itself may not be the real problem at all. There are actually at least 395 identified cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors and I believe cholesterol has received far more than it’s share of attention.

Cholesterol meterCholesterol is extremely important in the body. It is the main building block for production of all the important hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol and aldosterone (produced by the adrenals to regulate blood pressure and the rate of water lost from the body). Cholesterol is needed to make vitamin D, as well as bile which is produced by the liver to help digest fats. Cholesterol is also found in the membranes that surround every cell in the body, making it important in skin health. It keeps skin hydrated and helps it maintain an effective barrier against bacteria and irritating substances. Cholesterol is also important in immunity and brain function.

Doctors typically prescribed statin medications to lower cholesterol levels. These drugs come with a long list of side effects, not the least of which is an increased incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease! Yes, the very thing they are meant to be preventing by lowering your cholesterol is a listed side effect. Statin medications block the pathway in the body by which it makes cholesterol. This is the same pathway by which the body creates coQ10, an extremely important antioxidant which also enables every cell in the body to produce energy. It is also highly protective against oxidative damage, which is one of the main problems leading to the build up of plaques in the blood vessels leading to heart attack and stroke.

When doctors test blood for cholesterol readings, they actually measure a number of things.

  • Total Cholesterol
    New research suggests this number has little correlation with CDV risk
  • LDL (low density lipoproteins)
    LDL is sometimes also referred to as the bad fat
  • HDL (high density lipoproteins)
    HDL is sometimes referred to as the good fat because it is protective and gathers up cholesterol to transport it safely back to the liver
  • Triglycerides
  • The ratios of HDL to LDL and HDL to cholesterol

The main thing to be concerned with is your HDL:LDL ratio and your triglyceride numbers. You want the HDL:LDL ratio to be less than around 3.5 (ideally the lower the better) and your triglycerides to be around 1.0 mmol/L (fasting) or less.

The real problem occurs when inflammation in the blood vessels act on these LDL’s and triglycerides. This damages the blood vessel wall and causes cholesterol to accumulate and adhere to the wall, resulting in a blockage. Inflammation is caused by a diet of excess sugar, preservatives, trans fat and alcohol, as well as smoking and excessive stress. When blood fats are in good condition and circulating in healthy, undamaged blood vessels, they are actually protective against this damage and build up. It is only when inflammatory damage has occurred that plaques can form.

Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle are still the biggest risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, and should be your first priority in the prevention of CVD. Exercise is one of the most effective ways to raise your HDL level, giving you a strong level of protection against CVD. Quitting smoking, eating less sugary, processed foods and increasing your intake of water and good fats from sources such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and fruits and vegetables are the best preventative measures you can take.

Your naturopath can prescribe numerous different minerals, herbs and supplements to lower blood pressure, protect against oxidative damage and give your heart and cardiovascular system all the nutrients it needs to remain as healthy and strong as possible.

Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net