Psych meds and mutant genes

A little while back, I mentioned that I was having a pharmacogenomic test done, i.e., a genetic test to suss out how my body might respond to different medications.  In my case, the test was looking at antidepressants and other psych meds.  The results are in; they’re nothing dramatic, but they’ve validated my experiences with certain medications.

For example, I had been taking aripiprazole (Abilify) as a sort of helper drug to complement my primary antidepressant.  I started out taking the very lowest available dose, and when that seemed to be going well, my psychiatrist recommended increasing it.  I tried that for three weeks, went “NOPE, not OK,” and dropped back to the lower dose.  Even though my psychiatrist had given me permission to do this, she seemed disappointed and continued suggesting the higher dose.

Well, guess what?  It turns out that I have genetic markers for processing aripiprazole very efficiently; the test results note that I should “use with caution” and “lower doses may be required.”

I was right.  I was right that the higher dose was wrong for my body, even though it’s a “normal” dose for other people.

The test also looked at a gene called MTHFR, which produces the gloriously long-named enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase.  It converts folic acid to a form called L-methylfolate, which is the form used by the body and brain.  (Moms, remember how important it was to take folic acid while you were pregnant?  It’s because L-methylfolate is super important for brain and nervous system development.)

Long story short, it turns out one of my MTHFR genes is a mutant version, meaning my body might not be processing folic acid as well as it ought.  There’s some preliminary research that this is associated with depression and maybe with low energy levels.  [Cautionary note: If you’re curious about this for yourself and decide to start Googling about MTHFR, put your critical thinking hat on tight.  Those search results are going to pull up a lot of BS.  Real medical research about MTHFR seems to be fairly scarce.]

In an odd sort of way, it’s exciting to finally have a test actually find something wrong with me.  I’m depressed and I’m anxious and I’m tired, and yet all the normal tests (iron levels, thyroid hormones, etc.) are always, well, normal.  I now have a new and different thing to try: taking L-methylfolate supplements.  I’m not incredibly optimistic that they’ll make much of a difference, but one can dream.