What do you think when you hear “winter in Utah”? Beautiful snowy mountains? White Christmas? Fun ski trips with friends? Not for me, at least not originally. My first winter in Utah was one filled with feelings of anxiety, depression and illness. Coming from California (I know, don’t hate me for that) I wasn’t adjusted to the cold, seemingly sunless winters that Utah can provide. So I spent considerably more time inside and it was the first time in my life that I had gone an extended period of time without substantial sunlight. This was compounded even more when my lifestyle was dramatically reduced in activity. Along with a new diet of winter time comfort food with virtually no nutritional value, I unknowingly turned myself into a time bomb primed and ready to go off.
Most of us learn young that sunlight, physical activity and a balanced diet are key parts of a healthy lifestyle. However, I would like to focus on diet in particular. While I am sure that sunlight and activity played a part in the onset of anxiety and depression I experienced, I know for certain that my diet was the biggest issue. You may wonder how I am so confident it was my diet and the answer is…science.
I Was Almost Down for the Count!
To set the scene (and at the risk of sounding a little dramatic), let me paint a picture of how I was feeling that first winter in Utah. Many people describe anxiety and depression as a gradual experience while the situation decaying over time while symptoms slowly worsen. Looking back, I followed a similar pattern but at the time I didn’t recognize I was struggling to stay above water until I was already at the bottom of the ocean.
By the time I realized what was happening, these terrible feelings had hit me like a punch from Mike Tyson and nothing could have made the situation worse than it already was. What felt like overnight, I was slammed with anxiousness, dread and fatigue. These overpowering emotions only reduced my motivation to get out of bed and increased my desire for unhealthy comfort food. Thus began an extended period of time being trapped inside, hiding from the cold, overcome with feelings of angst, despair, restlessness, desolation and extreme fatigue. Days turned into weeks which became months of me wondering if I would ever feel like myself again.
Who Am I To Turn Down Help?
Completely blind to what could have been causing my problems, I probably would have stayed like that forever if it weren’t for the help of caring friends and family who witnessed my downward spiral. Thanks to them, I started to seek out answers to what was going on with me. Miraculously, the answers seemingly fell into my lap. Luckily for me, Dan Purser MD is my uncle and when he (along with my amazing aunt) caught wind of what I was dealing with, he recommended I come in for a blood draw.
Being extremely faint of heart around needles, I was hesitant to say the least but I went and learned a lot about myself. While I spoke with Dr. Purser, I described how I had been feeling and none of it seemed to surprise him. In fact, as I spoke more, it was as though my symptoms were simply checking off boxes on a mental list he already anticipated and explained to me that he suspected I was struggling with MTHFR errors.
Who Are You Calling MTHFR?
“No you’re a MTHFR!” I retorted. Not actually but that would have been funny, right?
MTHFR (pronounced M-T-H-F-R) is an acronym for ‘Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase’ that is the gene responsible for optimizing the methyl process (thank you Google for the official definition of “encoding the rate-limiting enzyme in the methyl process”).
Simplifying that definition a little more, the MTHFR gene plays a vital role in your body’s absorption of B vitamins. This means that a genetic error of the MTHFR gene (also known as a methylation error) can result in severe vitamin B deficiencies. Symptoms of these deficiencies can include but are not limited to:
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Lack of energy (lethargy)
- Feeling faint
- Changes in the way you think, feel and behave
- Decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgment (dementia)
The minutia of these genetic errors and their symptoms are way over my head, Dr. Purser wrote ‘The 85% Solution’ which goes into depth about MTHFR genetic errors.
What Does Any Of This Have To Do With Diet?
One very queasy blood draw later, we had everything we needed to find out if I actually had these genetic errors and a week later I learned I in fact did have MTHFR errors. Although I didn’t have the exact genetic errors we were anticipating, I had a number of neighboring methylation errors that produced the same effects including an extremely decreased ability to absorb B vitamins from my diet, a severe vitamin B deficiency and overwhelming symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Prior to that winter, my diet was very heavy on red meats and other foods high in vitamin B. This allowed me to go the vast majority of my life at a tolerable level without noticing major symptoms. It wasn’t until my eating habits changed that my brain and body completely surrendered to the effects of these severe deficiencies causing my energy levels to plummet and my anxiety and depression to skyrocket. Throughout the day, I was constantly falling asleep everywhere and tormented by feelings of unsettlement and hopelessness.
Depending on the severity of your specific genetic error / errors, your deficiencies may be “tolerable” by simply maintaining a diet rich in B vitamins like they were for me. However, those of you with slightly more severe methylation errors are not so lucky. A change in your diet will not show any major differences regardless of how much red meat you eat. Your body simply isn’t capable of breaking down and processing the B vitamins found in food sources. But have no fear! Whether you have minor to severe deficiencies because of methylation errors, there is a way to get out of it and achieve the quality of life that you deserve. Want to know the best part? It is extremely simple!
Physician Designed makes two products, MTHFR Renew and MTHFR Endure, that are specifically designed for people like you and me who struggle with methylation errors. Both use specific forms of B vitamins that work around your genetic errors and are able to be absorbed by your body. For me, I started with MTHFR Renew (the stronger, more aggressive of the two) to quickly ‘fill in’ my deficiencies which made a world of difference in my life. My energy levels increased, my motivation came back, my feelings of anxiety and depression subsided. It truly was night and day. Then, once I was feeling good, I switched to MTHFR Endure (the gentler, more mild of the two products). My vitamin deficiencies were brought to normal levels by MTHFR Renew, and my daily dose of MTHFR Endure is all that I need to keep them stable at those levels.
Before making any changes to your medication or supplementation, be sure to consult with a physician but here is how I was instructed to use these products. Start with one capsule of MTHFR Renew daily for a week and the following week go up to two capsules daily. Keep increasing your dose by one capsule every week until you hit your ‘tipping point’. You will know what your tipping point is when you feel it (trust me, I doubted if I would feel it myself). You will keep feeling better as the days go by and as your dose increases. Your quality of life will begin to get back to normal. Your energy levels will be going up until one day you might start to feel a little jittery like you drank too much coffee. Some people experience their anxiety and depression beginning to return. This is a common sign of overmethylation. For me, that was the sign that I had reached my limit and was ready to switch to the milder form, MTHFR Endure. I take three capsules daily to maintain the quality of life I was able to achieve with MTHFR Renew.
Unfortunately, these genetic errors do not have a fix since your genes will always be the same and your inability to absorb B vitamins properly will always be a part of your life. However, that does not mean you have to suffer because of it. The treatment plan that I just outlined worked for me but every set of genetic errors and every person will be a little different. It is something you will have to experiment with and figure out what works for you but let me tell you, once you figure it out you will be thanking yourself for going through the effort.
If you can relate to the symptoms that I experienced, I can not suggest strongly enough to take the first step by booking an appointment and getting testing done. By doing so, you can find out if you have these methylation errors. Even if you end up not having these genetic errors, the tests that can be run from just a few vials of blood are very thorough and I am confident something equally as important may be uncovered.
I understand not everyone would like to start their journey in a doctor's office though. For those of you who are struggling with similar symptoms but would like to start with your diet first, this article talks more on the importance of B vitamins and lists a number of good food sources to find them in.
Don’t let something like a vitamin deficiency wreak havoc on your life when there is such a simple fix. Get healthy & get happy!