What is Methylation and Why Should I Care?

What is Methylation and Why Should I Care?

First let me tell you why you should care and then we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of methylation:
A breakdown in methylation significantly increases the risk of a huge number of health conditions from osteoporosis and cervical dysplasia to cancer, depression and anxiety, ADHD, birth defects, chronic conditions such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, cancer, cognitive decline, miscarriage, and stroke.
A large percentage of the population carries a genetic predisposition (MTHFR) to reduced methylation. Many other factors can also reduce your ability to methylate. Read on to find out what methylation is, what factors affect it, and how you can assess your own methylation capacity.
Methylation is a chemical process that occurs in every cell and tissue in our bodies. It is the process of adding a methyl group (1 carbon bound to 2 hydrogen molecules) to various “substrate” molecules in the body. These substrates include your genetic material (DNA), RNA, enzymes, neurotransmitters, and hormones.
Methylation of a substrate changes how that substrate interacts with other chemicals in the body.
It can turn genes on and off- affecting our health either positively or adversely (depending on the gene). Similarly, methylation can activate or inactivate enzymes in the body (turning on and off chemical processes).
Methylation is essential for detoxification in the body. One crucial example is the methylation of a toxic amino acid called homocysteine to a beneficial amino acid (methionine). If the body cannot methylate properly, toxins (such as homocysteine) can build up. Elevation of homocysteine in the blood is a risk factor for a diverse number of health conditions including heart disease and stroke, clot formation, early miscarriage, Alzheimer’s disease, elevated liver enzyme, and osteoporosis. You can see here that the impact of elevated homocysteine is quite broad.

 

There are several factors that can reduce methylation capability:
1) Genetic mutations (many genes including MTHFR mutation)
2) Lack of cofactors that drive methylation (such as zinc, magnesium, and B6)
3) Specific nutrients which deplete methyl groups (such as niacin)
4) Environmental toxicity (heavy metals and other chemical exposures)
5) Lack of sufficient methyl donors (B12, folic acid, riboflavin, vitamin B6, choline, TMG (betaine), DMG, DMAE, SAM-e)
6) Health conditions (such as hypothyroidism, kidney failure, cancer, and pregnancy).
Let’s talk about assessing your methylation pathways. This can be done through a few blood tests:
1) Complete blood cell count (CBC): large red blood cells (elevated MCV) can signal poor methylation
2) Homocysteine in the blood: the normal level is less than 13 but, a level between 6 and 8 is ideal.
3) If you have low hemoglobin or red blood cells or an elevated MCV, request a test called serum or urinary methylmalonic acid (MMA). This is a more accurate test of B12 status and utilization than serum vitamin B12.
4) An MTHFR genetic test can also be helpful. A significant number of people (some estimates believe 40% of the population) carry these mutations in two genes commonly tested for. The C677T mutation reduces methylation by 70% if you have two defective copies (homozygous) and by 40% if you have 1 defective copy (heterozygous). It is associated with increased homocysteine. We know less about the A1298C mutation. Heterozygosity (1 defective copy) of the A1298C gene is not thought to be problematic on its own unless the patient has a very unhealthy lifestyle or exposure to significant toxins. 2 defective copies can present more of a problem.
Proper methylation has been named by some physicians to be the key to healthy aging.
So, what can you do about it?
1) Improve your diet. “Folate” (as in folic acid) comes from the word “foliage”. Humans need to eat plenty of leafy green vegetables. Folic acid is also found in legumes, fruits, and whole grains. Egg yolks, fish, and other animal proteins are the primary source of Vitamin B12 (so, if you’re vegan, consider a supplement). Avoid excess animal proteins, sugar, saturated fat, alcohol and coffee all of which can deplete B vitamins and increase homocysteine.
2) Watch your meds: acid blockers, methotrexate, oral contraceptives, HCTZ (a blood pressure medication), and anti-seizure medications can all affect levels of B vitamins.
3) Consider a B complex with activated forms of the B vitamins. If you have an MTHFR mutation, you should avoid synthetic folate.
4) If you are pregnant, or considering getting pregnant, your prenatal vitamin should contain folic acid in activated form (5-MTHF).
Here’s to your healthy methylation!
NJNaturopathAdmin
drkuzniar@njnaturopath.com