Have you heard of the MTHFR gene variants which increase the risk for certain conditions like heart disease? The MTHFR gene provides instructions for making the MTHFR enzyme, which is involved in the metabolism of the amino acid, homocysteine. These gene variants may increase levels of homocysteine in the blood, which is associated with an increased risk for heart disease. However, research suggests that this gene-related increase can be modified by diet.
This research, which relied on data from 995 Boston Puerto Rican adults, found that:
- The impact of two MTHFR gene variations, associated with heart disease, on plasma homocysteine (Hcy), were modified by dietary poly-unsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) intake.
- Dietary PUFA intake modulates the effect of MTHFR variants on plasma Hcy.
The Hearty Take
This study supports the power of epigenetics! Epigenetics, the study of changes in gene activity that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence, shows that the expression of genes can be influenced by external factors, such as lifestyle and environmental exposures, rather than being solely determined by our DNA. For those with MTHFR gene mutations or variants that increase the risk for heart disease, it is likely of benefit to consume a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids like: salmon, oysters and flax seeds, and aiming for a balanced ratio of omega 3 fatty acid to omega 6 fatty acid levels to avoid high homocysteine (Hcy) levels. As suggested by this study, this may help lower plasma Hcy levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. However, it is important to seek out personalized recommendations, as many factors can impact heart disease risk!