What is it and why should I care?
You’ve probably heard about methylation. It tends to be a hot topic these days, and for good reason! But understanding what exactly methylation is can be the tricky part. Well let’s dive into it!
Methylation is vital to our overall health. When functioning optimally, methylation has a large positive effect on many processes through the body that regulate the activity of the cardiovascular, neurological, reproductive and detoxification systems. However, this can be problematic considering that approximately 60% of the US population has a genetic mutation that slows 5-MTHF production which hinders the body’s ability to methylate properly. However, by taking the time to understand methylation, you can make small changes to optimize your body's methylation function.
Methylation is a fairly simple process in the body where one carbon atom and 3 hydrogen atoms are transferred from one substance to another. Methylation and it’s opposite counterpart, demethylation, can be thought of as the epigenetic process where genes are switched on and off. Just because you have a specific gene does not mean that it will express itself, this is where epigenetics and methylation come into play.
Let’s start with a rough breakdown of the methylation process. Methylation begins with the amino acid homocysteine. When homocysteine is present in large amounts in the body it can be harmful and toxic, however our body is usually fairly effective at converting homocysteine into other necessary substances. Homocysteine is converted to methionine and other important compounds such as glutathione and affects folate metabolism through methylation. However this process needs both vitamin B12 and 5-MTHF, the active form of folate, to function. When there is a deficiency in either of these vitamins then methylation will not function optimally and there will be a buildup of homocysteine in the body. High homocysteine levels are indicative of a higher risk factor for many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, neurological issues, inflammation, cancer and more.
The atoms used in methylation, CH3, are 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 for methylation. However this can be impaired when there is a deficiency in B vitamins or a genetic trait that hinders the conversion of folate to its active form, 5-MTHF. This is because SAMe is reliant on 5-MTHF to “switch it on”. So in simple terms, if enough 5-MTHF is not present then the methylation cycle will not be able to work efficiently.
So that can be a lot to absorb, especially when you consider that it tends to run in a vicious cycle. Methylation is dependent on the active form of folate, 5-MTHF, however folate cannot be metabolized without methylation. A deficiency in b vitamins or an altercation in genes inhibiting 5-MTHF production can hinder the methylation cycle. But don’t get discouraged, there are lots of things you can do to help boost your methylation.
The first thing you can do is take a genetic test to see the variants in your MTHFR genes to know if you have a genetic mutation that is affecting your methylation. Once you have this knowledge you will know what forms of precautions and proactive decisions you should make in regards to assisting your methylation.
Here are some simple diet and lifestyle changes to help aid optimal methylation:
Eat whole, unprocessed foods and make sure to add an extra emphasis on including the following:
Green, leafy vegetables
Lifestyle habits to incorporate would be engaging in regular physical exercise, limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption and not smoking.
Supplementing can be a key point in optimizing methylation. There are 7 nutrients that can help improve the methylation cycle even with the presence of genetic mutations. These nutrients include 5-MTHF, methylcobalamin (active B12), Pyridoxal 5-Phosphate (active B6), Riboflavin 5-Phosphate (active B2), Magnesium, Betaine, and Vitamin D.
It is so important that we have optimal methylation, as it impacts so many different and important systems in our body. Taking the time to find out your methylation status and working to improve it may be one of the best overall things you can do for your health.