The human body is constantly surprising me — especially the brain. New research into the brain continues to inform my academic appetite and I can’t help but share it.
I don’t have a challenge for you today, but I do have a story. A friend recently shared with me the struggle of the on-and-off battle with depressive thoughts and emotions she has dealt with throughout her life.
“Oh my gosh, my brain is quiet for the first time in years!” Those words rushed through her mind after finding a solution to a problem she assumed might never be solved.
Facts first, though — let’s talk about folate, a form of B vitamin that occurs naturally in many types of foods, including asparagus, spinach, broccoli, lettuce and lentils. Folic acid is a man-made form of folate that is mostly added to processed foods or vitamin and mineral supplements. Folate is good. But if your body can’t convert it into L-methylfolate — the form your brain can use — there will be problems. Complications can include lowered levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, all of which help to alleviate depression.
My friend had a processing deficiency in her brain that was caused by the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) polymorphism, meaning that the gene responsible for making the enzyme that converts folic acid into L-methylfolate is not working correctly. If there is one mutation on this gene, the ability for a person to be able to convert folic acid into L-methylfolate is reduced by 34 percent. If you have two mutations on the gene, it is reduced by 71 percent.
In my friend’s situation, MTHFR polymorphism is no longer a problem, but a success story. She had wanted to live well and to be able to function normally in her day-to-day life. Any time she felt emotionally unstable she would try her best to power through it with an “I can do this” attitude.
Unfortunately, thoughts kept rushing through her head and she couldn’t focus. She had trouble comprehending what she was reading and trying to learn. She struggled with wanting to do something but wasn’t able to process how to do it.
“It was gradually just getting worse and worse,” she told me the other day.
She was always diligent in eating various brain foods like spirulina, flax seed, chia seed and walnuts. But she could never figure out why she wasn’t feeling wonderful, even though she was eating all the right foods. When she found out about MTHFR polymorphism, she recognized what was wrong with her, and researched L-methylfolate to find out if it might be the solution for her. She immediately began taking the active form of folate. For the first few weeks of taking it, her emotions were in upheaval. However, during that time she gained the ability to process emotions, heal and move forward.
“That incessant chatter and chaos was just gone. I can read and retain. My brain is more fluid,” she described in excitement.
She’s been taking L-methylfolate for just over four months now, and has gained the ability to see connections between concepts in a way that she hadn’t been able to before. It’s a changed life for her, and exciting news for others who may struggle with the same issue.
Recent research has shown that up to 70 percent of patients with depression test positive for the MTHFR polymorphism, and one-third of depression patients are deficient in folate levels. Of course, folic acid and L-methylfolate are not catchall answers to depression. This deficiency could also be caused in part by poor diet and lack of nutrients in the first place.
The good thing about L-methylfolate is that even people with normal folate levels can still benefit from folate supplementation. Among physicians, the concern about folate supplements in depression patients is the fact that excess folate might mask symptoms of those with vitamin B12 deficiencies. Unless a person undergoes routine checks, it is wise to add a vitamin B12 supplement to the added folate.
You should not use L-methylfolate without the advice of your doctor or psychiatrist, since it could cause allergic reactions or other side affects if mixed with certain medications. Never share this medication with another person, even if you believe they have the same condition you have. Be aware of your body and mind. Know what your normal behavior and brain functioning looks like, and talk to a physician if you are ever concerned about changes that you see.
Shelby Paulsen is the director of The Rising Sun Clubhouse, and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.