How The MTHFR Gene Can Affect The Immune System
The immune system is an intricate part of the body that requires symbiosis between other organs and bodily processes for it to function at its best. When immunity is adequate, it can keep you protected from foreign pathogens that might otherwise wreak havoc on the body and make you ill. Essentially, the immune system if your own personal line of defense from diseases and pathogens that can harm you.
When the immune system is not running as it should, it leaves you vulnerable and more susceptible to developing chronic disease or contracting frequent infections that can damage the body permanently. Since the immune system relies on other parts of the body to help it run, there are some genes that can help or hinder immune function. One such gene that has been associated with immunity is the MTHFR gene. But what is the MTHFR gene? And how does the MTHFR gene affect the immune system?
What does the MTHFR gene do?
The MHTFR gene is responsible for creating a specific enzyme known as methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. This enzyme is important for overall health because of how it affects the body’s processing of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Protein is vital to the body. Every cell contains some protein, and it is needed for your body to repair cells and make new ones. Throughout a person’s entire life, protein is there to help with growth and development.
The MTHFR gene is vital for the body to maintain adequate protein stores because it provides instructions that are needed for certain chemical reactions. One such reaction involves folate, otherwise known as vitamin B9. Without enough B9, the amino acids cannot do their job.
What is the MTHFR gene mutation?
There are two sperate gene mutations that can occur to MTHFR. A person doesn’t always have an MTHFR gene mutation, but if it is present, it can only be one of the two. They are often referred to as variants, which is a part of a gene’s DNA that varies from person to person. When a person has only one variant, it is referred to as heterozygous and isn’t likely to cause any health issues. Having two, however, which is referred to as homozygous, could lead to serious health problems at some point in a person’s life.
The two main variants or mutations that can occur to the MTHFR gene are:
- C677T: This variant is thought to occur in up to 40% of Americans.
- A1298C: This variant lacks the breadth of research that C677T has; however, research has found that it may occur in anywhere from 14% to 47% of people.
These mutations or variants are hereditary, which means that you get them from your parents. There is no way to reverse the mutation.
How does MTHFR affect the body?
While not everyone will experience different effects from MTHFR gene mutation, some will. Each person is different, and so that means that even if two people have the same variants, it may not affect them the same way. The research behind what the gene mutation does to the body is still evolving and there is limited evidence to suggest that any health conditions are directly driven by the mutation itself.
What problems can MTHFR cause?
As mentioned above, there is limited evidence to support that the MTHFR gene mutation can cause any problems directly. That being said, there are several different ailments that have been proposed to be associated with the variants. These include:
- Cardiovascular health issues such as blood clots, strokes, heart attacks, or embolisms
- Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia
- Certain cancers such as colon cancer or leukemia
- Chronic pain and fatigue
- Nerve pain
- Recurrent miscarriages in people of child-bearing age
- Complications that occur during pregnancy, such as spina bifida and anencephaly
It is thought that the health risks are most strongly associated with people who both variants or mutations as opposed to just one.
Does the MTHFR gene mutation affect the immune system?
When the MTHFR gene mutation occurs, the body may have difficulties breaking down homocysteine (an amino acid that is used in the creation of protein, as mentioned above). When that happens, the enzyme can accumulate in the bloodstream, which can lead to the development of different medical conditions. This is also because of the way it leads to the depletion of vitamin B9, which the body requires to function normally. The parts of the body most affected by a lack of B9 include the heart, brain, and tissues.
Having elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood is called homocysteinemia. Studies have found that inflammation levels can increase with homocysteinemia, and because of that, the immune system is affected – specifically, the way T-cells function. T-cells remember certain pathogens so that the immune system can be prepared to fight them off at a later date. When there are elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood, the T-cell response becomes altered and essentially changes the way the immune system functions.
Unfortunately, there is no real way to tell if you have the gene mutation or not unless you go through a testing process. More than likely, if you do have it, it’s not affecting your health. However, if you believe that you may have the MTHFR gene mutation and it could be causing your health problems, speak to your doctor about getting tested. This will help you discover the best treatment option for a lack of folate and restore your overall health in the best way possible.