I remember when I worked at the health food / supplements stores, one of the girls aka Geniuses would always talk about supporting methylation and how methylation “just does everything”. And then I had one lecture on it at uni, and it discussed how methylation switches off or on genes, and controls enzyme and proteins production.
And I was still like, yeah but what IS methylation, like I could just never get a grasp or understanding on what it was, because it always seemed so mysterious and ephemeral. Anyways, so now I currently reading Dr. Ben Lynch’s book; Dirty Genes, and he talks about methylation deeper and im like okay, I kinda have a better understanding of its role and crucial importance in the body, and I was like lets research more and do a blog on it, and explain it in a way we can understand. So hey hi hello here it is.
Methylation essentially occurs when a methyl group (CH3) is addedto a compound. This compound could be a hormone; like serotonin or estrogen, or it could be an amino acid, like methionine - which we consume when we eat protein.
When a methyl group is added to a compound, it changes its structure. It transforms it to something else. So think of when you add more moisture and water to cookie batter it’s now more of a muffin or cake batter. It is transformed into a different delicious yum. (lol soz I couldn’t think of a better example).
We need methylation to be able to
convert compounds into other compounds that we need to function, or
to excrete compounds, we need methylation to
create new neurotransmitters,
regulate gene expression and to create new DNA for us; so our cells can stay juicy,
to support the immune system and to also reduce inflammation.
Before we explore the above 5; let’s go through the methylation cycle to explain how what we consume and how we live our lives; impacts the health of our methylation cycle.
I like to think of the methyl cycle as a game of rugby/AFL/football or even chasey. Whoevers “it” or has the ball, runs and passes it to another, until it reaches SAMe - who is the person who scores the try/goal or until the game is over.
What happens is, our MTHR gene passes the initial methyl group to Folate, making it methylfolate.
Methyl folate passes its methyl group to homoecysteine, who donates it to methionine, who then passes it to the end game; SAMe.
SAMe is then the runner who passes the methyl groups to the 200+ functions that need them.
Once SAMe has passed all its methyl groups, it converts back to homocysteine, and if our methylation cycle is healthy; the process starts again with homocysteine converting to methionine.
If it’s not healthy, homocysteine converts to glutathione – our master antioxidant. Which indicates our body is exposed to lots of toxins and needs glutathione to mop them up, taking it away from our methylation cycle – which passes the methyl groups to the 200+ functions that need them. AKA if we’re stressed; homoeysteine becomes glutathione and those 200 functions are now handicapped like “yo wheres my methyl?!!?!?”.
SO thats my methylation explanation. Here’s a complicated looking diagram to help you ahah
So back to what methylation does in our body and why its so important;
- Serotoninis methylated to become melatonin – our sleep hormone.
- Tryptophanis methylated and can become serotonin– our happy, satiated hormone.
- Tyrosineis methylated to become dopamine– our reward neurotransmitter.
- Methionineis methylated and becomes homocysteine.
- And homocysteineis methylated and can become glutathione– our master antioxidant.
2. Excretion of Hormones & Neurotransmitters.
Methylation is required for the detoxification and excretion of hormones like estrogen. When estrogen is not detoxified out of the body effectively, it circulates and drives issues such as; PMS, heavy periods, obesity, endometriosis, mood swings, and breast/ovarian cancers in women. In men, it contributes to man boobs, excess fat around the hips, and also makes it hard to put on muscle.
So through supporting our methylation cycle, we help our liver to excrete excess hormones; improving the balance of our hormones and reducing the symptoms associated with.
We also need optimal methylation to detox and excrete out noradrenaline & dopamine – two neurotransmitters involved in our fight-of-flight response. When inadequately cleared, we’re wired and tired, find it difficult to switch off, to sleep, to slow down and focus.
Methylation also excretes a build up of histamine; who when in excess drives allergies, leaky gut, sinus issues, runny nose, itchiness etc.
3. Neurotransmitter Synthesis:
Methylation also creates the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, as well as as glutathione – our master antioxidant.
Serotonin -is our happy hormone, responsible for appetite regulation, mood stabilisation,
Dopamine -is about reward, motivation, pleasure, attention and mood too
Glutatione - is our big daddy antioxidant, mopping up free radical cells that damage our DNA and drive inflammation.
4. Gene Regulation:
Methylation either switches on or switches off genes (our DNA), telling our proteins to either become one thing, or another. This is highly beneficial as it ensures the correct enzymes and proteins are being transcribed and created, and turns off genes that can cause havoc, and potentially become cancerous cells.
5. Homocysteine levels:
Proper methylation keeps our homocysteine levels healthy and optimal, as too much homocysteine is associated with an increase in inflammation and oxidative stress in the body – and all the dis-ease states that are associated with elevated inflammation; auto-immune, gut issues, mood imbalances, pain, ageing, skin issues, infertility, chronic infections, chronic fatigue, and so much more.
As we went through in the cycle, too much stress sees homocysteine converting to glutathione to try and clean up the free radicals, taking away from our 200 bodily functions that need their methyl groups to do their thing, e.g create serotonin.
There is also a genetic and epigenetic component to methylation. If we’re born with a “dirty” MTHFR gene (which remembers starts the game, of passing the first methyl group to folate), our methylation cycle is strained.
It’s important to know though, that our lifestyle impacts our genetic predispositions (known as epigenetic), so how we live our lives, can either clean a dirty gene, or dirty a clean gene.
You can get your MTHFR gene tested; as its one of thousands of SNP’s we have (single nucleotide polymorphisms). If that sounds scary, don’t stress - its not a negative thing at all, its evolved with us for a reason. Ask your practitioner / health professional to get your SNP’s tested if you’re wanting to know more.
Symptoms of a Strained Methylation Cycle & How to Support:
Slow or inadequate methylation is associated with a pleather of states; a few common ones include
Depression / anxiety / mood imbalances / irritability
Wired and tired
There are a few reasons for a strained methylation cycle:
A key one is having a shortage of methyl groups– which we get from our foods, particularly leafy greens. Without adequate methyl groups, our body isn’t able to create and transform the necessary compounds for our optimal wellbeing and thriving.
How to support:
Foods rich in methyl groups include our leafy greens; kale, spinach, rocket, swiss chard, sprouts, endive, beet greens etc.
B vitamins are also methyl donors; in particular B2, B6, B9 and B12, which are rich in most foods, with B12 coming from animal sources. If you eat whole foods, you’ll be getting B2 (riboflavin) and B6 (pyridoxine).
We also require magnesium and zinc for proper methylation, with cacao, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, pumpkin seeds, seafood being rich in both.
Choline is another important nutrient required for methylation, as well as keeping our cell membranes happy and functioning. Choline is rich in eggs, soy lecithin and peanuts.
Having a genetic disposition to a “dirty” MTHFR gene, as just mentioned, you can get your genes tested.
How to support:
Supporting your methylation cycle with 5-MTHF methylfolate or activated B vitamins, is suggested in conjunction with working with a practitioner to guide you through.
For ages we’ve been told to consume folic acid – to prevent birth defects, yet, folic acid is a synthetic vitamin that actually rapes your methyl groups and blocks the absorption of folate– which is derived from foods. So if you have a multi-vitamin or pre-conception multi with folate in it THROW IT OUT. It does NO good!!!!
How to support:
Opt. for either folinic acid or methylfolate, along with leafy greens in the diet. Folate is crucial for methylation as folate reconverts homoecystine to methionine (remembering that that’s what we want as too much homocysteine is problematic). Also consume adequate B12, if you’re vego/vegan, supplementation with a methylcobalamin is recommended.
Stress is a killer, as it rapes our methyl groups, increases inflammation and just adds additional free radicals to our body. When we’re stressed, excess stress hormones are produced and if our methyl cycle is strained it can’t keep up, exasperating feeling anxious, panic attacks, over thinking, sleeping issues, wired and tired, and the additional physical, emotional and psychological outcomes of chronic stress.
How to support:
You can incorporate a meditation or mindfulness routine into your life, support yourself with adaptogens such as Reishi Mushroom, Rhodiola and Withania. Ask for help. Journal. Change your life. Outsource. Speak to someone. Go be out in nature; find your yin thing that just calms you down and make sure you make it a habit.
Additionally, cutting our pro-inflammatory and thus, stressors in your diet, such as processed sugar and refined carbs, junk food, take away, lollies, gluten, dairy, and alcohol. And clean up your beauty and skin care products, for more info; check out the blog on it.
So now we know methylation supports detoxification, DNA & RNA creation, gene regulation, energy production, creating neurotransmitters, supporting the immune system as well as reducing inflammation.
So consuming lots of green leafys in your diet, and reducing processed sugar, alcohol gluten and other pro-inflammatory compounds, such as the toxins and chemcials in our products, plant oils e.g soybean, canola, vegetables, managing stress and optimising sleep and movement are all part of the equation to functioning methylation; and in turn; being a thriving millennial.
all my love xoxox
1. What is Methylation - https://www.fxmedicine.com.au/blog-post/what-methylation
2.DNA Methylation and Its Basic Function - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3521964/
3.Histone Methylation- https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/histone-methylation
4.Testing Methylation Pathways- http://nutripath.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/NP-NEW-TestFlyerA4-METHYLATION-Tests-v1.0.pdf