Natural sources of vitamin B9

Folate on the Brain: A Natural Approach to Treating Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism is more a constellation of symptoms than a disease with a single cause. In fact, there is often more than one causative factor involved in autism and similar diagnoses. One basic tenet of naturopathic medicine is to treat the cause. In autism spectrum disorders (ASD), many cases have a genetic component that is “hard-wired”, so to speak, and therefore not theoretically treatable. However, some genetic changes have associated treatments. And if these and other contributing causes are also successfully identified and treated, this can result in significant improvements.

One area of focus is identifying and treating issues with how the body utilizes folate, an essential nutrient also known as vitamin B9. Folate is required in multiple metabolic processes required for healthy brain function. Some of these processes ultimately make DNA and RNA as well as keep harmful chemicals that may cause neuro-inflammation at bay.

Rich sources of folate include dark leafy greens, asparagus, beats, chickpeas and liver. Folate is generally absorbed in the small intestine. After absorption, it requires a specific protein transporter called folate receptor alpha (FRα) to make its way to the brain.

MTHFR and beyond:

The methyltetrahydrofolate (MTHFR) gene has been a hot topic in research for many chronic health conditions - from ASD to autoimmune conditions and cardiovascular disease. This gene produces the MTHFR enzyme, which helps convert circulating folate, which is in the form of tetrahydrofolate (THF), to its usable form, 5-methyl-tetrahydofolate. Mutations in the MTHFR gene have been found to be somewhat more prevalent in ASD(1). These mutations are fairly common, and supplementation of methyl folate can be helpful in mitigating its effects. That being said, MTHFR is only one small piece to a larger picture—think of an engine that has several gears required for it to work properly. If one gear breaks, others get overloaded and dysfunction ensues. There are other mutations, or polymorphisms, that can affect the pathways that MTHFR is connected to; these have also been shown often to be present in ASD(1). Generally speaking, these polymorphisms lead to trouble in detoxification pathways, DNA and RNA repair, changes in neurotransmitter levels, and increased oxidative stress, all of which can affect the brain. In ASD, these polymorphisms have associations with decreased cellular uptake of folate as well as depleted sources of SAMe, cysteine and glutathione. It is important to note that there is variability across the spectrum, depending on the particular genetic profile of the person(2). This is why testing for these polymorphisms should be an essential diagnostic tool. With testing, nutrient supplementation can be optimized to meet the specific needs of the individual.

-The folate cycle & related pathways-

-The folate cycle & related pathways-

Arguably more important than MTHFR or related polymorphisms, recent research shows that many people with ASD may have trouble getting folate to the brain. This may be attributed to the presence of antibodies to FRα, a specific transporter that is required to allow circulating folate into the fluid surrounding the brain.  A study of 93 children with ASD showed that 75.3% of them had antibodies that either bound to or blocked FRα, thereby inhibiting the uptake of folate into the brain.  In study participants that had antibodies to FRα, high doses of leucovorin, which contains a metabolically active form of folate called folinic acid, significantly improved language and communication as well as attention and stereotypical behavior.  This means that in individuals who test positive for FRα antibodies, high doses of folinic acid may yield a dramatic improvement.  

Beyond supplementation, a low-allergenic diet can lower the body’s immune response in general. Specific food allergies or sensitivities can be tested for via skin prick or serum testing. Adhering to such a diet can result in fewer FRα antibodies and improved folate uptake.  

Please consult with your or your child’s physician to discuss an optimized diagnostic and treatment regimen, for what could quite possibly result in dramatic improvements!


  1. James, S. J., Melnyk, S., Jernigan, S., Cleves, M. A., Halsted, C. H., Wong, D. H., Gaylor, W. (2006). Metabolic endophenotype and related genotypes are associated with oxidative stress in children with autism. American Journal of Medical Genetics. Part B, Neuropsychiatric Genetics: The Official Publication of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics, 141B(8), 947–956.
  2. James, S. J., Cutler, P., Melnyk, S., Jernigan, S., Janak, L., Gaylor, D. W., & Neubrander, J. A. (2004). Metabolic biomarkers of increased oxidative stress and impaired methylation capacity in children with autism. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 80(6), 1611–1617.

detox smoothie

Eat, Breathe, Detox

Our world is beautiful, but it is also, unfortunately and overwhelmingly due to human meddling, increasingly toxic. The chemicals from our environment enter into our bodies through our lungs, our gastrointestinal system, and our skin. They settle in our tissues, including our fat, liver, bone marrow, muscles, brain, and joints. Once inside, they interfere with our bodily functions, thereby making it more challenging for our cells, tissues, organs, and systems to behave properly.

Becoming healthier includes making an active daily choice to reduce one's "toxic burden," which is defined as the total accumulation of toxins in the body. Signs of toxic burden in the body include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gut disorders, neurological disorders, autoimmune challenges, hormonal disorders including hypothyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, and diabetes, infertility, chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia, headaches, multiple chemical sensitivity, and inflammatory disorders.

The typical ways for toxins to be eliminated from our bodies are via our skin, lungs, large intestine, and kidneys. The better these organs function, the more easily they can help to remove chemicals from the body. But, to the REAL trick to staying low-tox in this toxic world?  Avoid the toxins in the first place!

Here's how:

  1. Eat clean food. As in, real food (not the kind my kids call "chemical food"), grown without fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc.

  2. Drink clean, filtered water. A 2017 study found that 94% of water in the US is contaminated with plastic fibers! Ughhh.

  3. Breathe clean air. Throw out the chemical air fresheners, room deodorizers, and artificially scented candles. Spend more time outdoors, on the beach or amidst the trees.
  4. Be selective with your cleaning and body care products. Use organic products when possible. Labels don't usually tell the whole story; opt for products from companies that you trust, or make your own cleaning products. If you're really daring, you could make your own body and hair products, too!

Seasonal cleansing is the cornerstone of reducing one's toxic burden. Cleansing should not be an afterthought anymore; it's essential for health. There are many ways to cleanse, including undergoing modified water fasts, juice cleanses, simple food or broth cleanses, and protein powder-based cleanses, to name a few. However, be careful with cleansing, and consult your healthcare practitioner before embarking on an audacious detox.

Every teeny step we take to reduce our exposure to toxins and improve our elimination of them can enhance our health and make us more resilient and vital. So, be judicious about what you eat, drink, and breathe. And don't forget to detox!

2018 year golden figures

2018: A Year for Cultivating

Be empowered to optimize & cultivate your health with intention in 2018! 2017 was a year of great change on many levels, allowing questions about our very human state to percolate to the surface. These matters spilled into politics, the media, personal conversations, churches, schools, and businesses, bringing about a palpable dissonance that was felt by most everybody. It was a year of huge tides, rolling waves, and beaches greatly transformed after every storm, metaphorically speaking.

What will 2018 bring? I sense that the scattered energies of 2017 will become refocused and repurposed; they will move towards grounding and healing, allowing us to gain a better understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves. Where there was a sense of unease in the past year, this year may bring with it the laying of a new foundation, from which we can build our health and resilience with purpose.

Change, motion, and activity are the definition of life. Yet, stillness and quietude are just as important. Our bodies and minds require down-time in order to reorganize and cultivate internal structure after periods of change. As the seasons allow for times of rapid growth (summer) and times of inward silence (winter), a similar balance between movement and rest in our lives is necessary, particularly when it comes to our mental and physical health.

The key is to move into 2018 with purpose. Know what you want to achieve, and make a list of actionable items to guide you towards success. Here is my suggested empowered healing action plan:

  1. Let go of what was. Too much baggage will weigh you down.
  2. Make a list of problems, concerns, and frustrations about your health.
  3. Write down your health goals. Could be by time increment, such as weekly, monthly, quarterly goals, etc.
  4. Note any connections between your health concerns and health goals. For example, a problem could be "poor sleep," and an associated goal might be "daytime energy of at least 8/10."
  5. Create a list of ways to move from each particular problem to resolution of that problem. This may require consultation with your physician, health mentor, nutritionist or counselor.
  6. Keep the list active! Check it and make progress notes daily. Our life is a work in progress; so is our health and keeping it up.
  7. Other suggestions:
    1. Take time to move. Really move. And take time to be still. Very still. Observing and syncing with the ebbs and flows of nature will help with this balancing act.
    2. Become more aware of your inner voice and your gut feelings/reactions to things happening around you. Our bodies are brilliant, and all too often our conscious brains are just chatty agitators.
    3. Drink more water - suggested is approx. 1/2 of your body weight in ounces.
    4. Eat real food. Enough said. :)
    5. Sleep more. Most of us are sleep deprived.

So, just go for it & double-down on cultivating health in 2018! You can do it!!

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