The topic of methylation is getting its fair share of attention lately…methylation is a simple biochemical process – it is the transfer of four atoms – one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms (CH3) – from one substance to another.
When optimal methylation occurs, it has a significant positive impact on many biochemical reactions in the body that regulate the activity of the cardiovascular, neurological, reproductive, and detoxification systems, including those relating to:
DNA production, Neurotransmitter production, Detoxification, Histamine metabolism, Estrogen metabolism, Eye health, Fat metabolism, Cellular energy and Liver health
Why Is Methylation Important?
The body is a very complex machine, with various gears and switches that need to be all functioning properly to operate optimally. Think of methylation, and the opposite action, demethylation, as the mechanism that allows the gears to turn, and turns biological switches on and off for a host of systems in the body.
How Does Methylation Happen?
CH3 is provided to the body through a universal methyl donor known as SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine). SAMe readily gives away its methyl group to other substances in the body, which enables the cardiovascular, neurological, reproductive, and detoxification systems to perform their functions.
Unfortunately, the system that produces SAMe is reliant on one switch being turned on by a critical B vitamin, 5-MTHF (also known as active folate or methylfolate).
Simply put, if enough 5-MTHF is present, the methylation cycle will work efficiently.
Folic acid from the diet or supplements must be converted to this active form, 5-MTHF, before it can be used in the body in the methylation cycle.
Unfortunately, approximately 60% of people in the United States have a genetic mutation that makes it challenging for their bodies to create enough 5-MTHF.
When the methylation switch is turned off and isn’t creating enough SAMe, then a number of important molecules cannot be efficiently produced, including:
- Coenzyme Q10
- Nitric Oxide
The Good News
First, you can have a simple and easy genetic test to find out if you have a problem with your methylation cycle. This test looks at specific enzymes that are affected by your genetic makeup, including the enzyme MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase), which is the most important enzyme involved in creating 5-MTHF.
Improving The Methylation Cycle
In addition to a healthy, whole-food, non-processed food diet, make sure you are eating a lot of these foods:
- Brussels sprouts
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Legumes (peas, beans, lentils)
Lifestyle changes include:
- Engage in regular physical exercise
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- Don’t smoke
- Avoid excessive coffee consumption
Seven Essential Nutrients For Methylation
There are seven specific nutrients that can help the methylation cycle achieve optimal performance, even if an individual has the genetic mutation that slows down the methylation cycle.
- 5-MTHF (active folate)
- Methylcobalamin (active vitamin B12)
- Pyridoxal 5’-Phosphate (active vitamin B6)
- Riboflavin 5’-Phosphate (active vitamin B2)
- Betaine (also known as trimethylglycine)
- Vitamin D
Proper methylation influences so many systems in our bodies that it often gets overlooked, which can severely impact how well your body functions. Ask your health-care practitioner for advice if you have any concerns about your CH3 cycle.
DNA methylation is an epigenetic ( The Greek prefix epi- “over, outside of, around” in epigenetics implies features that are “on top of” or “in addition to” the traditional genetic basis for inheritance). Epigenetics most often involves changes that affect gene activity and expression mechanism used by cells to control gene expression.
- Hormonal imbalances: PCOS, PMS, fibroids, endometriosis etc.
Methylation is important for metabolising and detoxifying oestrogen, and so if it is a little slow, it can lead to the symptoms above. Also, if your periods are excessively heavy, you may need more iron, folate and B12 to build new blood.
- Infertility (both male and female), history of miscarriage or pregnancy related complications e.g. pre-eclampsia
Methylation is absolutely crucial to the growth of new tissue, so it is vital for fertility, maintaining a healthy pregnancy and supporting foetal growth. Your need for nutrients, (folic acid from folate in particular) increases exponentially during pregnancy. In addition, if you have experienced any of the problems above, your requirements may be even higher in comparison to a person who hasn’t, therefore diet alone may not be enough.
- Cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, poor circulation
If you’re not methylating properly, you may end up with high levels of homocysteine. Excess homocysteine can lead to inflammation and free radical damage, especially in your blood vessels.
- Mood and mental health issues: mood swings, depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD etc.
Methylation is needed for the production and metabolism of several key mood-modulating neurotransmitters; dopamine, serotonin, noradrenalin, adrenalin. Therefore, if disrupted, it can lead to either low, high, or fluctuating levels, having a negative effect on our mood and stress resilience.
- Autoimmune conditions: e.g. multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune thyroid
Methylation is key to immune regulation and repair. Many studies link high homocysteine and genetic factors affecting methylation, to autoimmune conditions in general.
- Memory problems, insomnia, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease
Just like high homocysteine can be damaging to our blood vessels, it can have the same effect in the brain by damaging our neurons and causing inflammation. Multiple studies have linked poor methylation to cognitive problems. In order to sleep, we need to produce the sleep hormone – melatonin, from serotonin, and guess what, this process also happens through methylation!
- Chronic fatigue, ME, low energy
Energy production, healthy thyroid, adrenal and nervous function are all dependant on methylation and a good supply of vitamin B12, B6, folate, zinc and magnesium, all of which get the methylation cycle going.
- Allergiesand histamine intolerance: eczema, hay fever, headaches, congestion, hives etc.
Allergies are characterised by an increased production of histamine – a chemical that causes all of the symptoms we associated with allergies: sneezing, itching, runny nose or watery eyes. Excess histamine in the cells is cleared by adding a ‘methyl group’ to it. This makes it inactive and ready to be excreted.
- Poor bile production leading to digestive problems, fat malabsorption, and gallbladder issues like gall stones etc.
Bile is a thick, yellow-green fluid produced by your liver and stored in the gallbladder. It plays a few vital roles. When secreted into the intestines, it has anti-microbial properties, cleansing the bowel and preventing overgrowth of unwelcome bacteria/yeast. It also aids absorption of fats and fat-soluble nutrients (vitamin A, D, E & K), and helps your body excrete toxins and excess cholesterol. You can see how vital it is to our health! However, if your methylation is disrupted, you may not produce enough phosphatidylcholine – a key component of bile.
- You have an inflammatory condition e.g. arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Constant inflammation is a big strain on the body in general and it can drain your ‘methyl pool’ – the availability of methylated molecules in the body that are ready to be donated to various essential processes. If that pool is continuously ‘drained’ by inflammation, other essential processes, such as tissue repair or neurotransmitter production can be affected. If you have a chronic digestive disorder such as IBD or pernicious anaemia, your absorption of vital nutrients, such as vitamin B12, may also be significantly reduced.
Are you affected by one of the problems above? If so, it could be that you need to promote healthy methylation. By doing so, you would be giving your body a helping hand. A good start would be to try a multinutrient with the right nutrients that support methylation – methylfolate or ‘5-MTHF’ and vitamin B12, especially methylcoblamain.
MTHFR (methyletetrahydrofolate reductase) is an enzyme that converts folate into a usable form that our bodies need. It is a key enzyme in an important detoxification reaction in the body – one that converts homocysteine (toxic) to methionine (benign). If the enzyme is impaired, this detoxification reaction is impaired, leading to high homocysteine blood levels. Homocysteine is abrasive to blood vessels, essentially scratching them, leaving damage that causes heart attacks, stroke, dementia, and a host of other problems.
This enzyme does not require folic acid.
Additionally, when the enzyme MTHFR is impaired, other methylation reactions are compromised. Some of these methylation reactions affect neurotransmitters, which is why impaired MTHFR activity is linked with depression. Inefficiency of the MTHFR enzyme is also linked to migraines, autism, fertility, cancer, and birth defects, all of which depend on proper methylation.
What is the MTHFR Gene?
The MTHFR gene encodes for the MTHFR enzyme. There are variations in the gene that affect the function of the enzyme.
If I have variant copies of the MTHFR gene, what can I do?
If the MTHFR enzyme is inefficient, you may be able to compensate for your body’s inability to methylate efficiently since this biological process is dependent on several B vitamins. You may simply need more B vitamins than someone without a variant copy of this gene, such as vitamin B6, B12 (methylcobalamin) and the active form of folate (5-methyl tetrahydrofolate). Other methyl donors such as SAMe and trimethylglycine (TMG) may also provide benefits. If you have a defective copy of the MTHFR gene, it is important for you to monitor your homocysteine level as well. Fortunately, lowering homocysteine can often be done with the nutrient supplements listed above.
Genetic testing today now empowers you to take control of methylation, launching into a new age of truly individualized healthcare.