What is Methylation and why does it matter?
Have you heard of Methylation? It’s a buzz word popping up all over the natural health world at the moment and might sound a tad involved and complicated. But it’s really quite simple, I promise. Methylation is the transfer of a chemical group, called a ‘methyl group’ (a carbon atom linked to three hydrogens), from one molecule to another. Methyl groups act like a key to turn on and off up to 200 plus biochemical reactions in the body, which can occur up to a billion times per second!
Methylations is so vital, that without it, life cannot exist. The quality of our Methylation reactions can determine how well our body functions and how well we maintain an optimal level of health.
Top 10 Functions facilitated by Methylation:
- Production of neurotransmitters: brain and nervous system function and maintenance of a healthy mood.
- Detoxification: including hormones, chemicals, heavy metals.
- DNA production, repair, and gene expression.
- Production and recycling of glutathione – the primary antioxidant in the body.
- Regulation of inflammation.
- Building of cell membranes and cell repair from free radical damage.
- Immune response: producing immune cells to fight off infection.
- Regulating the ‘fight or flight’ stress response.
- Production of myelin (the protective layer on nerves): conduction of nervous system messages.
What happens in the body without adequate Methylation?
As Methylation governs such a wide range of biochemical reactions in the body, over or under-methylation can lead to various potential health issues. Some of the more common symptoms of inadequate methylation may include low energy, mood disturbance, fertility issues, cognitive and behavioural disorders, poor detoxification, depleted immune health and gut issues. Methylation also controls the turning ‘on’ and ‘off’ of genes, or gene expression, which may affect the expression or development of various diseases.
How do I know if I’m methylating properly?
- If you suspect you may have issues with Methylation, your doctor can send you for a simple blood test for the MTHFR gene, which can indicate whether you may have genetically inherent issues with Methylation.
- Homocysteine (an inflammatory molecule) can also be tested by the doctor and may show up as high on a blood test if you have Methylation issues.
- Red cell folate and Serum B12 levels can also give an indication of Methylation status.
- Your local Naturopath, Holistic Doctor or Integrative Medicine Practitioner can also send you for further functional tests including a Plasma Methylation Profile, which can give you a more accurate indication of the degree of your Methylation issues and what compounds would be best to treat you with.
Vitamins needed for Healthy Methylation:
Optimal Methylation requires adequate amounts of various nutritional ‘methyl donors’, which facilitate the Methylation process. Individuals who have issues with Methylation, may require pre-methylated forms (methyl, or more active forms) of some of these vitamins to utilise due to their Methylation issues. A few of these include:
- Vitamin B6 – Active form: Pyridoxine-5-phosphate (P-5-P)
- Folic acid/Folate – Active form: Folinic acid or 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF)
- Vitamin B12 – Active form: Methyl B12 or Methylcobalamin
How does Vitamin B6, Folic acid and Vitamin B12 facilitate Methylation?
- Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and Folic acid are required to produce methionine, which in turn produces SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine), which is the carrier of the methyl group from one molecule to another, thus carrying out the process of Methylation.
- Folic acid and Vitamin B12 are needed to recycle the end product of Methylation; homocysteine, back into SAMe thus completing the Methylation cycle. This recycling of homocysteine also reduces the amount of this inflammatory molecule in the body, which helps support good cardiovascular health.
- Vitamin B6 (P-5-P) and B2, are also needed to produce the active form of Folic acid (5-MTHF). In fact, most B vitamins rely on at least one or two other B vitamins for their production and activation, therefore it is always wise to consume them together in the diet, or in supplement form such as a B Complex.
Handy Diet tips to improve Methylation:
- Consume sources of Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and Folate – including avocado, bananas, chicken, salmon, tuna, oysters, eggs, dark leafy greens, asparagus, beans, lentils, almonds, sunflower seeds and walnuts.
- Eat fermented foods – these provide probiotics which increase the amounts of good bacteria in our gut which produce our B vitamins for Methylation.
- Avoid processed foods – Processed foods are nutrient poor, and only contain small amounts of nutrients required for Methylation when compared with Wholefoods.
- Avoid alcohol – Alcohol may prevent your body from absorbing B vitamins and other methyl related nutrients. Alcohol can also put an extra strain on the liver and require extra methyl groups to detoxify them.