Methylation Disorder: What Is It And Why It Matters

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH


Your DNA determines your aging and can affect this methylation disorderMethylation is one of the most crucial biochemical process and metabolic functions in the human body. Methylation reactions occur trillions of times in every cell of your body each minute. Methylation disorder raises the risk of several diseases and accelerated aging. Several key cellular processes involve methylation. This article provides deeper insight into the significance of methylation in your body and natural solutions for optimizing this biochemical process for enhanced mental, physical, and emotional health.

What Is Methylation?

Methane CH3 is an organic chemical comprised of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. Methylation occurs when methyl groups attach to substrates in your body. During a methylation reaction, a methyl group from the universal methyl donor SAMe attaches to substrates such as amino acids, neurotransmitters, hormones, DNA, proteins, nerves, or immune cells.

The chemical process is initiated by vitamin B 9 and 5-MTHF, also referred to as folic acid. This means for methylation cycle to occur, folic acid from our diet or supplements needs to convert to its active form, 5-MTHF. When a methyl group attaches to the DNA strand, the process is known as DNA methylation. When you methylate a gene, you are essentially turning its expression off.

The methylation process is deeply linked to your mental and physical health. Your cells depend on this significant epigenetic mechanism for controlling gene expression. For instance, if there is inadequate methylation of the feel-good chemical serotonin, then it can make you feel inactive, anxious, and depressed.

Why Is Methylation So Important?

Methylation plays multiple key roles in the human body. The biochemical process is vital to your well-being. The process involves over 200 enzymatic reactions and contributes to detoxification, energy production, inflammation control, mood balancing, DNA repair, and glutathione production.

New studies have found a link between DNA methylation and lifespan. An extensive study involving a period of as long as 14 years and over 5000 people discovered that DNA methylation that was five years or older than a person’s chronological age raised the risk of premature death by up to 16%. DNA methylation is affected by environmental factors, hereditary, and is associated with health outcomes.

Methylation in the body enables the production of important chemicals essential for healthy biological functioning. Some of the important chemicals produced by methylation include:

  • Serotonin
  • Melatonin
  • Glutathione
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Epinephrine
  • Cysteine
  • Norepinephrine
  • Taurine
  • L-Carnitine

The methylation cycle influences critical biological processes in the body such as energy production, DNA maintenance, immune system function, and detoxification.

This methylation balance in your body is essential for the regulation of various body functions including:

  • cell energy
  • mood balancing
  • healing
  • detoxification
  • neurology
  • immunity
  • genetic expression of DNA
  • hormone metabolization

Further, methylation helps your body adapt to stress and deal with life challenges. Methylation disorder can affect multiple functions of the body, increasing the risk of disease and accelerated aging.

Key Functions of Methylation

This chemical process in your body supports multiple crucial functions. These are some of the key functions of the methylation cycle in your body:

Maintains Healthy Levels of Homocysteine

Compromised methylation can cause an elevated level of homocysteine in your blood which can raise the risk of various diseases including cancer. Methylation helps maintain a low level of homocysteine.

Glutathione Production

Methylation plays a crucial role in converting homocysteine to glutathione, a master antioxidant in your body. It helps prevent the formation of reactive oxygen species and free radicals that are major threats to organs and cause cellular toxicity. Poor methylation can hinder glutathione production in your body leading to weakened immunity, arterial damage, cognitive decline, and accelerated aging.

Protein Synthesis

Methylation helps in protein synthesis through genetic transcription. It also helps increase muscle mass and promote fitness. Protein synthesis through extra methylation is a widely known practice in the livestock industry where methylating agents are added to animal feeds.

Neurotransmitter Synthesis

The methylation cycle is essential for the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine which keep you relaxed and happy. It also helps reduce the risk of dementia.

Promotes Cardiovascular Health

Homocysteine, an amino acid, can turn toxic when there is too much in the body, raising the risk of blood clots and cardiovascular disease. People with genetic variants of the MTHFR gene are more vulnerable to this condition, as getting rid of homocysteine can be difficult for them. Methylation helps convert homocysteine back to methionine and other health-friendly amino acids.

Regulates Hormones

The methylation cycle helps maintain a healthy balance of hormones such as estrogen by supporting liver function. This, in turn, cuts down the risk of hormone-dependent cancers.

Protects Telomeres

Adrenal gland disorder, can be affected by stress, aging, and a methylation disorderTelomeres are attached to DNA and chromosomes. Well-protected telomeres prevent rapid aging. Methylation protects the telomeres and hinders signs of early aging.

Supports Mitochondria Health

Mitochondria are the major energy factory of your cell. Methylation protects mitochondria cells thus helping maintain adequate energy production. Methylation disorder can cause severe and persistent fatigue. The methylation cycle helps in the production of Coenzyme Q10 which is essential for heart health and energy production within mitochondria.

Methylation Disorder: Over Methylation and Undermethylation

Getting the appropriate balance of certain nutrients, co-factors, and enzymes is essential to maintaining the proper functioning of the methylation cycle. Any imbalance of these factors can lead to methylation disorder.

When methylation pathways in your body are out of balance it can negatively affect your body’s biological processes. Poor methylation in your body is the leading cause of numerous health issues. Certain distinct symptoms appear consistently.

The symptoms of poor methylation are many and can largely differ from person to person. Some of the symptoms of methylation disorder include:

  • Anxiety
  • Anemia
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Allergies
  • Autism
  • Abnormal immune function
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Behavior and learning disorders
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Chronic infection
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Down’s Syndrome
  • Elevated blood sugar
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Food and chemical sensitivities
  • Insomnia
  • Infertility, pregnancy problems, and miscarriage
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neurotransmitter imbalance
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Racing thoughts
  • Weight gain

As methylation depends on certain nutrients, deficiency of these nutrients can cause undermethylation whereas abundant nutrients can cause overmethylation. Methylation plays a key role in the production of the vital neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.

Undermethylation can cause depletion of neurotransmitters leading to frequent headaches, obsessive-compulsive disorder, seasonal allergies, and difficulties with transitions, phobias, addictive behavior, delusional behavior, social isolation, and calm conduct with inner tension.

On the other hand, overmethylation can lead to elevated levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. This can cause food and chemical sensitivities, low motivation, anxiety, feeling easily frustrated, sleep disorders, depression, nervousness, self-isolation, self-mutilation, tinnitus, low libido, dry skin, and hyperactive psychosis.

Factors Influencing the Methylation Process

There are several factors that influence methylation in your body. Certain key enzymes, vitamins, minerals, precursors, and cofactors are responsible for activation of the methylation cycle. Deficiency in any of these factors can lead to methylation disorder.

Precursors that, when lacking, can affect the methylation process include:

  • homocysteine
  • choline
  • methionine
  • betaine

Co-factors that affect methylation include:

  • Zinc
  • B2, B3, and B6
  • B12
  • Folate

Enzyme polymorphism genes can also have a big role in how your methylation process works and include:

  • COMPT
  • MTHFR

Homocysteine

Low or high levels of homocysteine can affect your body’s methylation cycle significantly. Homocysteine is a chemical produced by the breakdown of the amino acid methionine in the body. Homocysteine is normally present in the blood.

High homocysteine levels, or hyperhomocysteinemia, can indicate low levels of folate and vitamin B12; can cause impairment of methylation cycle, dementia, blood clots in the veins, hardening of the arteries, and stroke. Certain conditions such as psoriasis, kidney disease, hypothyroidism, MTHFR, or a deficiency of vitamin B12 or B6 can lead to elevated homocysteine levels in the blood and raise the risk of methylation disorder.

MTHFR

Produced by the MTHFR gene, methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is an enzyme that helps in the methylation process. Certain copies of the MTHFR gene are more prone to become dysfunctional.

People with a genetic predisposition develop an elevated level of homocysteine in the blood leading to poor methylation. Cardiovascular problems, fatigue, and depression are some of the symptoms associated with MTHFR.

Vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folic acid supplementation along with eating folate-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables can help correct elevated homocysteine levels. MTHFR mutation can also indicate signs of poor detoxification. Therefore, providing detoxification support can prove an effective tool for addressing the problem.

Methylation and Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal gland disorder and conditions such as diabetes can be affected by a DNA methylation disorderClinical research shows that DNA methylation alters in response to stress. The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response System is your body’s stress defense mechanism. It is comprised of several organs and six circuits including the detoxification circuit which function together to fight stress. A pair of walnut-shaped adrenal glands located above the kidneys is also a part of the response system.

When your body experiences stress, the NEM signals your adrenals to secrete the anti-stress hormone cortisol to help fight stress. But with constant stress, the adrenals are forced to secrete more and more cortisol. As a result, the adrenal glands become overburdened and are no longer able to secrete adequate cortisol. This reduces your body’s natural stress-fighting ability, which can further lead to adrenal fatigue.

When you frequently experience extreme fatigue along with symptoms such as brain fog, insomnia, low energy levels, low concentration levels, difficulty in waking up, anxiety, constipation, stubborn weight gain, or craving for fatty and salty food, then chances are high that you could be dealing with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

Following adrenal fatigue recovery protocols is the best path to overcoming AFS. One of the key tools of adrenal fatigue recovery is detoxification. It helps to eliminate the accumulated toxins from your system so your body can better respond to the recovery process.

The detoxification circuit of the NEM system includes the liver, kidneys, and the lymphatic system. Imbalance leads to chemical and environmental sensitivities, a compromised immune system, and intolerance of supplements and medications. As AFS sufferers tend to have a weak body, mild detoxification is recommended under the guidance of an adrenal fatigue expert. The methylation process in your body plays a significant role in detoxification.

Essential Role of Methylation in Detoxification

Your body relies on the methylation process for converting nutrients into energy and supporting essential functions, such as creating the chemicals necessary for managing free radicals and detoxification.

All the organs contain cellular antioxidants that help protect your body from the effects of free radicals and toxicity. Organs such as the heart, kidney, lungs, brain, gut, and liver work continuously and thus demand high levels of energy. These organs utilize a large amount of biological energy, or ATP, for continuous, non-stop functioning. When mitochondria fully utilize ATP, free radicals are produced as end products. These free radicals, when not kept in check, can lead to compromised organ function and elevated toxicity. Constant exposure to environmental toxins further adds to the toxic overload in your body.

Glutathione plays a key role in the detoxification of heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, along with carcinogens such as benzene and chemicals such as BPA. To ensure your organs are safe from the harmful effects of toxins, it is crucial that your body synthesizes and utilizes glutathione. With increase in toxin exposure, the demand for glutathione production also rises.

It is here that the methylation process swings into action for the synthesis of glutathione. Methylation and glutathione production in the body are interlinked. Any methylation disorder can hinder glutathione production. The methylation reaction produces homocysteine, some of which is used in making cysteine, which combines to form a potent antioxidant glutathione.

Minimizing the toxic burden on the body and eating a nutritious diet supports the methylation process and likewise supports adequate glutathione production and effective detoxification. An expressed methylation gene mutation such as MTHFR, CBS, AHCY, and MTRR can impede normal enzymatic reactions and glutathione synthesis. Further, lack of precursors – such as homocysteine, choline, methionine, betaine, and lack of co-factors such as zinc, vitamin B2, B3, B6, B12, and folate – can also contribute to methylation disorder thus affecting glutathione production.

How Can You Influence Methylation Disorder?

Some people are more prone to poor methylation. This is because they inherit a gene from their parents which make them prone to methylation disorder. Some copies of the MTHFR gene that controls methylation can impede the methylation cycle.

Besides these genes and lack of precursors and co-factors, there can be several areas contributing to poor methylation processes in your body. Below are some of the factors that can influence your body’s methylation cycle. Some are out of your control, but others are not.

Diet

Nutrients play a significant role in your body’s methylation cycle. Some of the key nutrients essential for the methylation process include magnesium, zinc, niacin, betaine, vitamins B12, B6, B2, folate, and others. Deficiency of these nutrients can lead to poor methylation. A nutrient-rich diet composed of fresh green leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans support methylation.

Genetics

People with genetic polymorphism have a reduced ability to absorb the nutrients required for the methylation cycle, making them more vulnerable to methylation disorder.

Digestive Health

Methylation in your body largely depends on nutrients. Therefore, having a healthy digestive system is necessary for the proper functioning of the methylation cycle. Conditions such as food allergies, digestive diseases, and reduced stomach acid can reduce the absorption of nutrients.

Other Factors

Chronic infection, high emotional stress, smoking, alcohol consumption, exposure to heavy metals, and taking certain medications such as oral contraceptives and acid blockers can interfere with your body’s methylation cycle and raise the risk of methylation disorder.

Natural Ways to Improve Methylation in Your Body

There are several natural ways that you can naturally improve methylation in your body. These are the top five:

Support Detoxification

Toxin overload can interfere with your body’s methylation cycle. Detoxification is the first step to correcting methylation disorder. Certain herbs including dandelion root, cilantro, parsley, mint, and turmeric have detoxification properties that can help eliminate harmful accumulated toxins from the body. Avoiding toxins and taking steps to detoxify can help remove obstacles to methylation.

Load up on Superfoods

Superfoods are extremely rich in nutrients that help fuel methylation in your body. Make sure to include foods rich in vitamin B and folic acid in your diet as they help support methylation. Fresh green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, okra, broccoli, walnuts, asparagus, whole grains, sunflower seeds, and almonds are good sources of vitamin B.

Maintain a Healthy Gut

A healthy gut ensures proper absorption of nutrients essential for the optimal functioning of the methylation process in your body. Eating probiotic foods such as yogurt, kefir, coconut kefir, kimchi, kombucha, raw cheese, tempeh, and apple cider vinegar helps keep the bacteria in your gut healthy.

Reduce Toxin Overload

Canned foods are loaded with preservatives and harmful additives which add to your body’s toxic load. Many conventionally grown foods also contain high levels of pesticides. Consider replacing chemical-laden foods with organic fresh fruits and vegetables. Also be aware there are many toxic chemicals in household cleansers and hygiene products. Consider switching to natural alternatives.

Limit Stimulants

Consider limiting coffee, alcohol, and smoking as they inactivate and deplete the B vitamins. Deficiency of the B vitamins can hinder the methylation cycle in your body.

Minimize Animal Protein

Animal protein, saturated fats, and sugar increase the level of homocysteine in your body which can cause poor methylation. Limit intake of saturated fat and animal proteins as they deplete the vitamin stores of your body.

Conclusion

Methylation is a significant biochemical process in the body with multiple crucial functions. The process involves attaching a methyl group to the substrates in your body such as amino acids, neurotransmitters, hormones, DNA, proteins, nerves, or immune cells. Every cell in your body depends on methylation. It helps in the production of essential chemicals including melatonin, serotonin, and glutathione.

Most healthy individuals live without ever being aware of methylation issues affecting their health. However, those who have preexisting health issues, like those with adrenal fatigue, may suffer serious side effects if an aggressive methylation approach is undertaken. Always consult a knowledgeable health professional prior to embarking on any methylation program to avoid the possibility of your efforts backfiring.

A healthy methylation cycle in the body is essential for the regulation of many body functions from mood and detoxification, to cell energy, immunity, and hormone metabolization. Methylation also helps your body adapt to stress and deal with life challenges. Methylation helps maintain a healthy level of homocysteine in the body; it also facilitates glutathione production, detoxification, protein and neurotransmitter synthesis, hormone regulation, protection of telomeres, and cardiovascular and mitochondria health.

Any imbalance in the methylation pathways can negatively affect your body’s biological processes. Some of the symptoms of methylation disorder include abnormal immune function, cognitive problems, chronic inflammation, neurotransmitter imbalance, psychiatric disorders, abnormal immune function, autoimmune disease, chronic fatigue, cancer, food, and chemical sensitivities.

Detoxification; maintaining a healthy gut; limiting intake of animal protein, coffee, alcohol, and smoking; eating superfoods; and incorporating foods rich in folic acid and vitamin B into your diet can all help optimize methylation in your body for superior health.

 
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Question

There are various tests to determine methylation disorder. To know if the methylation process in your body is functioning correctly, some of the recommended tests include getting a complete blood count, testing for homocysteine, MTHFR genetic testing, and testing of the COMT, MTR, and MTRR genes.


Adrenal gland disorder and conditions such as diabetes can be affected by a DNA methylation disorder