Understanding Methylation

Watch our accompanying video here

Methylation is a vital process to lots of different things the body does. It involves adding methyl groups (a molecule of one carbon and 3 hydrogens) to other molecules. Think of it as the body using methyl groups as a kind of biological 'currency' to make things happen all over the body, catalysing multiple reactions, in many different systems. Methylation is so ubiquitous, it is happening in the background all the time, billions of times a second!

There are lots of different enzymes in the body that use methyl groups. In fact, anything that is a 'methyl transferase' (ending in initials MT - for example, the enzyme COMT that detoxifies oestrogen and stress hormones). It also plays a very important part in epigenetic modification, where methyl groups can be used to inactivate parts of our genetic code via DNA methylation.

The body's main supply of methyl groups often comes from a substance called SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine), a product of the folate and methionine cycles working together. There are a number of other vital by-products of those cycles that also contribute to other important functions. For example, the folate cycle converts food folates to 5-MTHF (methyl folate), but in the process also helps to synthesise purines and thymidine, which are needed for cell replication and repair. 5-MTHF also then acts as a co-factor for biopterin (BH4) which is vital to making the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, and hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. Biopterin also supports nitric oxide which promotes healthy circulation and blood pressure. The methionine cycle actually recycles a negative metabolite called homocysteine, high levels of which are linked to CVD and neurodegeneration, to make SAMe, which helps to keep homocysteine at a normal level.

So overall methylation and its related processes are all vital for a catalogue of wide-ranging functions, from making new body cells and repairing them, producing and balancing neurotransmitters, boosting immune function and regulating inflammation, detoxifying toxins in general and excess histamine and sex hormones in particular, supporting cardiovascular function, neurological health, energy production, and more.

Why should we worry about methylation if all of this happens in the background? There are lots of steps involved in methylation, relying on many enzymes and supply of certain nutrients as substrates or co-factors. We may have SNPs in some of the genes that code for those enzymes which may reduce their activity. So, we might not make as much 5-MTHF or SAMe, and that might then impact certain functions. Perhaps the most famous example of a SNP is in the MTHFR gene, which codes for the final step enzyme that converts one form of folate to the active 5-MTHF form. This can reduce levels of 5-MTHF by as much as 70%. We may also have reduced levels of nutrients to support those enzymes, like dietary folate or vitamin B12. Other factors may impact nutrient levels such as reduced digestion or gut function. 

Also, because methylation is so important to so many functions, our supply of methyl groups can become depleted if we are calling on those functions more often, for example if exposed to high toxic load, excess oestrogen, too much stress, or not allowing enough time to recover when ill or injured. In reality, methylation issues may arise from a combination of those 3 aspects - SNPs, nutrient insufficiency, or increased demands.

If our process of methylation is not working well, we can have many symptoms. These cut across all aspects of function, including fatigue, hormonal imbalance, susceptibility to stress and anxiety, cardiovascular disease, cognitive problems, low immunity, poor recovery, fertility issues, allergies, and even cancer. Really, any client we see may require support for methylation.

So, how can we support methylation if it is an issue? Obviously we can't change our genetic predisposition if SNPs are resulting in suboptimal enzyme function. Luckily, our health is a result of the interplay between genetics and environment, and we can change the environment to support the genetics. We can use increased dietary levels of the important nutrients such as methyl folate, perhaps sometimes using supplements, and, of course, remove some of the obvious pressures, so methylation is not having to work as hard, for example improving sleep, rest and recovery, or supporting gut function. This is the very basis of nutrigenomics - modifying relevant dietary and lifestyle factors to optimise our genetic predispositions!

Using the Lifecode Gx®️ Methylation Report we can look in detail at the pathways and potential function of the enzymes involved via the presence of certain SNPs. For more information on each section of the Methylation Report, check out the other articles in our methylation support section.

Read the Folate Cycle next!

Did this answer your question? Thanks for the feedback There was a problem submitting your feedback. Please try again later.

Still need help? Contact Us Contact Us