The Karma Sense Eating Plan is a path to greater health, increased happiness, and has the nifty side effect of saving the world. Other side effects include exposure to bad jokes, convoluted pop culture references, and treacly sweet bouts of unbridled optimism. “The plan” (which is what my wise editor suggests I use in place of the term KSEP), also is designed to be inclusive. The Karma Sense Eating Plan helps you meet your goals regardless of your tastes or lifestyle choices.
To test the extent of this inclusiveness, I talk to as many people as I can about why and how they make the health related food choices that they do. Surprisingly, a lot of people are willing to talk to me about this stuff. My guess is their willingness is due to their limited previous exposure. In other words, they don’t know enough to avoid me yet. (“Uh oh, here comes that Davey H character again. Time to put my phone to my ear and pretend I’m having a conversation.”)
My exposure to eating styles runs the gamut from militant vegans to paleo pacifists; from OCD orthorexics (people who obsessively pursue a healthy diet) to mindless junk food addicts; and from the highly calorie-restricted to the “pump-you-up” gym rat protein hoarder. But in one of these conversations, I ran into something I had never encountered before. This post is about that encounter with one bada$$ MTHFR and how it applies to you whether you’re a Mutant MTHFR or not. It’s a precautionary tale about how the “Healthy Lifestyle” Militia (The Militia) works and how to detect that you’re working with them. Most importantly, it’s yet another demonstration that having Karma Sense will set you free.
My MTHFR Encounter
A fan of the Karma Sense Wellness Facebook page was particularly motivated by a post discussing a link between Vitamin D deficiency and cognitive decline. She agreed to be a victim of my curiosity and in that discussion exposed me to the dangers of MTHFR. She had a lot on her mind so it was difficult for me to dig into the specifics of who the MTHFR was that was causing so much inconvenience, discomfort, and pain. In the ensuing discussion, I learned that her physician detected a mutation in her DNA that was driving some significant food and supplementation choices.
When we closed the call, I did an Internet search on MTHFR expecting to be inundated with pictures and videos of Samuel L. Jackson from movies in which he uses his favorite word. I’m talking about search hits like this scene from Pulp Fiction:
In case you were wondering, this is what the wallet looked like:
It turns out that I was wrong (I know, but there’s a first time for everything). Apparently, MTHFR is an abbreviation for methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase. Kind of flows off the tongue doesn’t it? With a name like that, why would you ever abbreviate it? It’d be like taking the beautiful name of NPR reporter Sylvia Poggioli and calling her S.P. But I digress.
Methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase is an enzyme produced in your body. It’s a required component to a whole series of chain reactions that convert the amino acid homocysteine to another amino acid, methionine. And if that chain reaction doesn’t happen due to the lack of the enzyme, it could mean trouble.
MTHFR is the symbol used for a specific gene that provides the instructions for making methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase. Apparently, certain physicians and other health professionals are directing their patients to behave in very specific ways due to the distinct configuration of the patient’s MTHFR gene. That’s what this Karma Sense fan was talking about. Now that I had this background, I could begin to investigate what was really going on around here.
The production rate of the methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase enzyme is driven by the configuration of your MTHFR gene. If you don’t produce enough of the enzyme, homocysteine accumulates in your body because the enzyme isn’t available to convert it to methionine. Homocysteine accumulation can kick off all sorts of nasty conditions.
This issue can be overcome by ensuring you take in enough B vitamins, especially folate. Folate deficiencies can cause serious defects in the nervous system and is especially problematic for women in the childbearing years since low folate levels are known to cause spinal defects in developing babies. In fact, in 1998, the Food and Drug Administration mandated that a synthetic version of folate called folic acid be added to grain-based products, such as bread. This created a kerfuffle akin to the great flouride-in-tap-water debates of the mid-twentieth century. But once again I digress.
These issues seem very serious. But here’s the thing. They’re easy to diagnose and they’re easy to treat. Unless you’re a member of The Militia. They like to make things more complicated than they seem.
If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you know that The Militia is a loosely bound group of “experts” that takes extreme positions often contrary to conventional medical wisdom. Many members of The Militia are sincere in their attempts to discover and distribute valuable information about wellness. But this group also contains members whose motivation is purely selfish. Let’s talk about those in the latter group who exploit all the technobabble about the MTHFR gene.
Enter Dr. Ben Lynch. Dr. Lynch is the loudest voice in the sea of experts stepping up to protect us from the horrors of MTHFR gene disorders. His entire portfolio of MTHFR resources is on his website, MTHFR.NET. There are loads of resources on the internet that either directly or indirectly discredit Dr. Lynch. I’ll let you decide for yourself but here are some of the claims:
- He is not an MD. He holds a Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University. I have nothing against naturopathic medicine as a complement to conventional medicine. But when NDs denigrate MDs or MDs denigrate NDs, my bullcrap detector starts blaring. Also, the curriculum at Bastyr has come under attack by its own students (read this to learn more).
- His research is suspect. His website includes an impressive list of research demonstrating the link between MTHFR genotypes and mutations to some truly horrifying conditions. But it appears he’s a cherry picker. When you look at all of the research available on MTHFR it is inconclusive. And by inconclusive, I mean that that there are so many confounding factors that when there are issues, they can’t be directly tied to any MTHFR mutations. Many people have the problematic genotypes yet have no problems at all (read this to learn more). Also, Dr. Lynch’s research is out of date. He last updated his research page in early 2012. I’m writing this at the end of 2015 and in 2015 to-date there are over 3,000 new studies on MTHFR per Google Scholar.
- He is not a practicing ND. Instead, he is running a franchise business. He sells training, resources, and other products to practitioners who turn around and sell expensive tests and products to their patients. If you want to be listed as a resource on his site, you have to pony up.
There may be something to MTHFR and the effect its mutations have on health. Somehow I don’t feel like Dr. Lynch has our best interests at heart. We do, however, owe him a thank you for making us aware of the real problem, elevated homocysteine levels and folate deficiencies.
What Do The Militia MTHFRs Want You To Do?
They want you to get a genetic test to see if you’re an MTHFR mutant. Geneticists consider the science of DNA testing to diagnose MTHFR issues as investigational (as in not ready for prime time). If you are a mutant (and you almost definitely will be), then they want you to visit them often, buy the supplements you can only get from them, and possibly patronize the purveyors of goods and services that serve in the same chapter of The Militia that they do. After you do all that, they want you to do what traditional medicine wants you to do too.
What Does Traditional Medicine Want You To Do?
- Tell them how you’re feeling. And if you have a family history of heart disease or any of the symptoms of a vitamin B12 or folate deficiency theyll order a blood test to include checking your homocysteine and folate levels.
- If your homocysteine is elevated and your folate levels are deficient, you may have a problem with the availability of methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase enzyme. This may be due to your MTHFR gene and it may be due to other causes.
- Instruct you to increase your vitamin B and specifically your folate intake by eating more green leafy vegetables, asparagus, bananas, oranges (Eat More Vegetables and Fruits) and beans. Bread and other foods are enriched with a synthetic form of folate called folic acid. Because some people have nothing better to do, there is a debate as to whether folic acid is as beneficial as folate. Personally, I’m always going to go for the natural supplier and many doctors agree. So, after they instruct you to increase your dietary intake the next may ask you to…
- Take vitamin B supplements that include folate of folic acid. If you’re pregnant, take the prenatal supplements directed by your physician.
- Monitor your homocysteine and folate levels at some point in the future and make any further adjustments based on what is found.
- Do everything else healthy that you already know you should be doing.
Remember, The Militia MTHFRs will probably have you do the same things as your physician. They may want to separate you from your cash but they want you to be healthy too. There is little harm to the extra chazerai (which I believe is Yiddish for “crap”) that they add other than wasted time and money.
Karma Sense Applications Even If You’re Not a Mutant MTHFR
At the current state of the technology. most practitioners of general medicine will not order DNA screening as a matter of course unless the application of the test is beyond investigational. Their go-to lab tests are more of the traditional sort and usually covered by insurance. If DNA testing is called for, it’s most often ordered by a specialist in a particular body system or disease. DNA tests are more expensive than most other lab tests and are difficult to read. If your doctor recommends a DNA screening, ask questions about alternatives that were considered and what he or she is expecting to see.
Also, physicians who apply pressure to buy the supplements you can only get from them don’t have your best interests in mind. Sometimes this pressure can be subtle. Charlatans often play on your fear. The healthcare industry is especially susceptible to bad behavior since people’s lives are at stake and it is so hard to get the love and attention from a traditional doctor who has to process patients through the insurance paper mill. I don’t think naturopaths are charlatans. There is plenty of science to back their practice and when their solutions are legit, they always beat the conventional, interventional, drug-dependent solution. However, it is a branch of healthcare that is not fully transparent and more susceptible to con artists. Many states do not regulate naturopaths
Finally, the basic rules of science never change. Even with all the bells and whistles, The Militia MTHFR sells to the Mutant MTHFR, you’re still instructed to Eat More Vegetables and Fruits. So avoid the whole mess and many other health issues and Eat More Vegetables and Fruits.
And I know…
I’m not just a student of Mutant MTHFRs, I am one.