Feitencontrole: deze moedervlekken zijn geen indicatoren van een MTHFR-genmutatie en andere valse beweringen – Reutersseptember 3, 2020
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Shared tens of thousands of times on Facebook, posts claim that three conditions found in infants – stork bites, sugar bugs, and sacral dimples – indicate a mutation in the MTHFR gene. The posts also allege that those with MTHFR gene mutations react aversely to vaccines, should not be administered Tylenol, and are more likely to have autism. These claims are false.
Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
The MTHFR gene, which we all carry, provides instructions for making methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, an enzyme that helps process amino acids, the building blocks of proteins ( ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/MTHFR ). As explained by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), everyone carries two copies of MTHFR, which, like all genes, can vary. There are two common MTHFR gene variants: C677T and A1298C. For most individuals, the risk associated with these variants is so small that testing for them is not recommended ( here ).
Dr. Sean O’Leary, vice chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases ( here ), told Reuters via phone that contrary to the claims in the posts, the presence of a “stork bite” (a common, usually temporary birthmark that is medically known as a nevus simplex), a “sugar bug” (a blue vein across the bridge of the nose), and a sacral dimple (a small dent in the baby’s lower back) are not MTHFR variant indicators.
The posts seek to sow worry over conditions that are largely not harmful. “Stork bites” are common and benign, appearing on 30-50% of newborn babies. Over 95% “lighten and fade away completely.” (here). “Sugar bugs” are also ”perfectly normal” and usually become less prominent or disappear altogether as babies grow (here).
Sacral dimples are rare (about 3-7% of babies are born with them) and, as stated here by the Cleveland Clinic, “most sacral dimples do not cause any health issues.” In rare cases, the dimple may indicate an underlying spinal problem ( here ) . One such spinal problem is spinal bifida, a type of neural tube defect affecting an estimated 1 in 2,500 newborns globally ( here ). The condition, associated with vitamin B9 deficiency, can be caused by a MTHFR gene mutation, which may be the origin of the sacral dimple claim. O’Leary explained that pediatricians are used to looking at sacral dimples, and that the process of assessing them does not include testing for this mutation.
More generally, some studies have linked MTHFR variants to a slightly increased risk of neural tube defects ( ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/MTHFR ). Dr. James L. Mills, a senior research scientist at the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told Reuters via email that one common variant in the gene, present in roughly 10-20% of the population, depending on racial background, is associated with poorer folate status (a type of B vitamin that helps the body produce red blood cells and keeps DNA healthy, see here ).
“This in turn can increase the risk for having a baby with a neural tube defect,” he said. The risk, however, is “relatively mild” and can essentially be eliminated through supplement use. Co-authored by Mills, a 1997 study on the topic is available here .
In addition, since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began fortifying enriched grain products with B vitamin folic acid in 1998 ( here ), “the risk has become very small if it still is present at all,” Mills said.
While rare, certain MTHFR variants may lead to higher levels of homocysteine, which can be a mild risk factor for certain health conditions, including blood clots ( here ). Dr. Mills emphasized, however, that elevated homocysteine levels are commonly linked to anemia, which can come from a host of factors—genetic, dietary, chronic, or otherwise ( here ).
Preliminary studies ( here ) have found that homocysteine levels are higher in patients with untreated hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormones), which is among the host of conditions the posts attribute to MTHFR gene variants. Low thyroid function, in turn, can cause fatigue and metabolism issues, two conditions the posts also mention.
Dr. Mills confirmed that the posts’ linking of MTHFR variants to depression, fibromyalgia, migraines, autism, infertility, IBS, ADD/ADHD, migraines, autoimmune diseases, and cancer is baseless, and that those with the gene variant may safely take acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol or Tylenol.
Lastly, the posts suggest that a child with a MTHFR mutation should not be vaccinated. This claim may stem from a 2008 study’s findings ( here ) that those with an MTHFR gene variant were at higher risk of adversely reacting to a smallpox vaccine.
As explained by Dr. O’Leary, however, the smallpox vaccine, given today under rare circumstances, carries higher risk of adverse effects overall than the vaccines currently recommended for infants and children. Since smallpox was eradicated in 1980, routine immunization against the disease stopped among the general public, but continues for lab workers studying the virus that causes it ( here ).
O’Leary says that these posts have taken information from the 2008 “small study” out of context, wrongly “extrapolating its findings to all childhood vaccines.”
False. These birthmarks are largely normal and are not indicators of a MTHFR gene mutation. One study indicates that those with a MTHFR gene variant may be at higher risk of reacting aversely to a smallpox vaccine. Routine childhood vaccines and medications, however, are safe to use.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .