Are you an allergy sufferer? Frequent headaches? Prone to depression or anxiety?
A methylation imbalance may underpin your issues.
You may have heard of methylation, read some articles and thought “it sounds complicated”. Methylation is a complex process, but I’m here to break down and deliver the essential information so you discern if a methylation imbalance might be impacting on your health.
What is methylation?
Methylation is a chemical process that occurs in all cells of the body. Think of it as a machine in a production line. It adds a component (a methyl group) to a material (a biological chemical) then spits it out to move on to the next machine. Methylation has numerous roles in forming certain compounds, detoxifying others and controlling their movement in and out of cells.
Some of the compounds that methylation helps to detoxify includes:
· Histamine, the chemical that causes allergy symptoms of itching, redness, swelling and irritation.
· Certain heavy metals such as arsenic
· Oestrogen in its final stages, which is a cancer risk if in excess.
· Neurotransmitters such as dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline
You can see how a methylation imbalance has the potential to impact on numerous areas of your health. Furthermore, what’s considered a ‘personality trait’ may in fact be due to the impact methylation can have on our brain chemicals (our neurochemistry).
How might a methylation imbalance present itself?
The process of methylation moving too slowly, termed undermethylation, is the most common imbalance. Typically these individuals are hard working and self motivated. Prone to perfectionism tendencies, undermethylators may set high expectations of themselves and potentially others. They are prone to seasonal allergies, hives, headaches, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), high inner tension and addictive behaviours.
Overmethylation is less common, however can be equally as impactful on wellbeing. Overmethylators are often artistic individuals. They typically don’t respond well to mainstream interventions such as anti-depressant medication. Common health issues for an overmethylator includes hyperactivity, anxiety, panic disorders and sleep issues.
What influences methylation?
Methylation can be impacted if you have specific gene variations, otherwise called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are being expressed (more on this in a moment). Natural health practitioners will often look at the MTHFR gene located at C677T and A1298C, though there are many other genes that can impact your ability to methylate. If you have inherited the gene variation from both parents (termed homozygous) you are more likely to develop a methylation issue. This may in part explain why tendencies toward allergies and mental health issues run in families, and also why they are amplified when both parents experience these issues.
Just because you have the genes does not automatically mean that you are stuck with a methylation imbalance. We now know, through the study of epigenetics, that internal factors (your response to stress) and external factors (pollution, smoking, diet etc.) have a huge role in how your genes are expressed i.e. genes can be ‘switched on’ or ‘switched off’. Through following a healthy lifestyle and successfully managing stress, you may be able to negate an inherited methylation issue.
Our ability to methylate is very dependent on two nutritional cycles, the folate and methionine cycle. Both of these cycles have specific nutritional needs to function adequately. Methylation will falter if you are lacking in nutrients due to a poor quality diet, poor absorption of nutrients or you are excreting them too rapidly (think diarrhoea or excess caffeine).
The key nutrients involved in the folate and methionine cycles includes the vitamins B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), folate, B12 (cobalamins), choline and various amino acids (proteins).
What can you do next?
As you have just learnt, stress can affect the genes that cause methylation issues, so rule no. 1 is to get the stress response under control. Take the pressure off yourself, breath deeply and give yourself the space and time to focus on calming your nervous system. Biochemical changes will follow.
To support yourself with a personalised nutritional protocol aimed at correcting methylation, find yourself a practitioner (e.g. naturopath, GP, nutritionist) who is familiar with methylation. They can do the appropriate testing, work with you to improve your diet and prescribe the correct dosing of nutrients to support your body.
By Naturopath Lucy Mason