One Carbon + Three Hydrogens = Methyl Group
Methyl Group + A Molecule = Methylation
Clear as mud right? We know! Methylation is far from simple. If you have never heard the term methylation, you are not alone. Whenever I say methylation, my patients initial response is “Methyl what?”
Genes & SNPs
One of the most common SNPs (pronounced “snips) or single nucleotide polymorphism is MTHFR. This has become a buzzword among functional and integrative medicine followers. This specific gene helps your body convert the non-active form of folic acid into the active form, methyltetrahydrofolate. The MTHFR gene mutations are linked with hypertension, heart disease, migraines, miscarriages, and autism. However, MTHFR is only one possible SNP within the methylation cycle. Other common genes along the methylation cycle include COMT, MAOA, VDR, BHMT and CBS.
Before we go any further, it is important to understand why this intricate biochemical pathway is crucial for life.
Here are just a few important roles of methylation within the human body:
- Gene Expression (methylation can turn on or off genes)
- Detoxification (heavy metals, hormones—specifically estrogen)
- Neurotransmitter Balance (serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine)
- Energy Production
- Regulating Inflammation
- Healing Tissues
- Breaking Down Histamine
The majority of us have some methylation SNPs. For example, there are two primary MTHFR genes A1298C and C677T. If you are homozygous (meaning double positive +/+) for MTHFR A1298C, that gene may not work as effectively. However, you have the other MTHFR gene C677T.
Methylation is the Body’s Highway
Sound a little confusing? To help visualize this, imagine a busy highway. If there is construction on the highway, traffic does not stop it is just slowed down. Just like methylation, this cycle does not stop with each SNP, it just slows down. That is why healthy living and appropriate supplements can support your methylation cycle.
Remember your GENES are NOT your DESTINY! Through epigenetics (biochemical mechanisms that switches genes on and off) and nutrigenomics (the impact of food and nutrition on gene expressions), we are learning the vital role the environment and nutrients play on gene expression. Considering all of these pieces and connecting the dots is exactly what integrative medicine is about!
Steps to Support Methylation
To support your methylation cycle and start to free up the body’s “traffic jam,” consider these steps:
- Choose an active, methylated B complex
- Try to avoid folic acid and depleting drugs, like proton pump inhibitors, birth control, methotrexate. (See your Do not stop without medical advice.)
- Eat plenty of fresh, organic vegetables and fruit, specifically dark leafy greens
- Limit environmental toxins. Buy the “dirty dozen” organic (determined by Environmental Working Group)
- Keep your gut healthy
- Take probiotics
- Eat a clean, anti-inflammatory diet
- Sip bone broth
- Track homocysteine levels (an amino acid that occurs in the body)
- Support detox pathways. Try using a sauna, dry skin brushing, exercise and Epsom salt baths
This is a very brief explanation to an incredibly complex process. As you learn more, consider finding a health provider who will help you understand the unique chemical makeup and needs of your body!
Kristin M Corbin, DNP, FNP-C