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Methylation Explained

What is Methylation?

Image of DNA structuresMethylation is a vital metabolic process that happens in every cell and organ of the human body taking place a million times a second. Life wouldn’t exist without it. Imagine billions of little on/off switches inside our body that control everything from our stress response or energy production to our detoxification processes and brain function.

Methylation is the transfer of a methyl group (1 carbon and 3 hydrogen atoms) onto DNA, enzymes, proteins or amino acids.

The addition of a methyl group onto these molecules supports biochemical reactions vital to key bodily functions such as: , repairing DNA, turning on and off genes, clearing infection, detoxification (particularly in the liver) mood stabilisation, thinking.

Methylation supports proper functioning of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis which is our stress response axis, while also being important in making all our neurotransmitters and histamine. Many enzymes or substances cannot move from one form into another without methylation occurring first to facilitate that process.

Key Methylation Functions

  • Switches genes on and off
  • DNA and RNA repair and building.
  • Switches on and off the stress response
  • Detoxifies chemicals, heavy metals histamine
  • Protects DNA and slows the aging process
  • Immune cell creation
  • Energy production
  • Neurotransmitters balance to support healthy mood, preventing depression, anxiety, insomnia and brain fatigue or dysfunction.
  • Cellular and nerve repair

Methylation’s Impact on Gene Activation/Deactivation

Many enzymes and processes within the body are coded for by specific genes that can be activated (turned on) to upregulate their action if the action is favourable to our function and survival, or deactivated (turned off) is their function is harmful to our function and survival.

When a molecule receives a methyl group this instigates a reaction that will alter the expression of the gene and therefore impact of the function of the body related ot that gene.  The key functions in the list above rely on a sufficient level of methylation to occur for these functions or processes to work efficiently.

Common Conditions Associated With Methylation Imbalance

  • Headaches
  • Addiction
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Increased pain levels
  • PCOS
  • Recurrent misacarriage
  • Autism
  • Poor detoxification
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Alzheimer’s disease

The Nutrient Connection

Photo of fresh fruit and vegetablesThere are three key nutrients that play a crucial role in enabling methylation to occur properly and these nutrients will only work in the cycle if they are converted into their active form or administered orally in instances where somebody doesn’t genetically convert one or more of these vitamins into their active form well on their own.  The key vitamins involved are B6 (in the form of Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate), B12 (in the form of Methylcobalamin or Mecobalamin) and Folate (in the form of Folinic Acid or 5-MTHF).

Causes of Methylation Imbalance

  • Dietcholine is a crucial source of methyl groups in our diet so it’s crucial to ensure we eat plenty of the following; eggs, beef liver, brocolli, brussel sprouts, cod, toasted wheat germ if gluten tolerant, beef liver and salmon. Folate can be found in leafy green vegetables and strawberries and citrus fruits. B12 is found in fish, meat, eggs and milk. It is important to have a balance of choline and foalte sources in our diet as an emphasis or deprivation of one will cause a reliance on the other to support methylation, which can result in imbalance in the cycle.
  • Stress – stress can deplete our levels of key nutrients required for methylation, it can also disrupt the switching on of key genes that help us to convert our key vitamins into their active form for use in the methylation cycle.
  • Medications – pharmaceuticals such as antacids and methotrexate (to name just a couple of examples among many) can disrupt our methylation via different means such as key nutrient depletion or the hindering of enzyme functions and processes related to methylation. Ingestion of folic acid(synthetic form) in supplemental form will stress the body’s natural ability to utilise folate(natural form) taken in from the diet – there is a theory that this plays a role with midline defects seen in increasing numbers in newborns such as cleft palate, tongue ties, lip ties. More research is needed to confirm this connection.
  • Infections – infections, whether they are acute or low grade infections can significatly disrupt the absorption, supply and conversion of key nutrients among other means of interferance with the cycle. Examples include, bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites.
  • Genetic variation or SNPs – a genetic variation can mean a genetic tendancy to not activate a particular enzyme sufficiently. In the case of methylation, there are key SNPs that affect the conversion of the key vitamins into their active form.  Examples of this include MTHFR for folate conversion or MTRR for B12 conversion.  Having these variations doesn’t usually mean there is not conversion, but it tends to mean the individual will have reduced conversion of that nutrient and a tendancy for that conversion rate to reduce even further if key aspects of their general health aren’t in balance. An example of stresses impacting these genes and nutrient conversions include but aren’t limited to; stress, infection, poor diet or food intolerances not addressed, toxin load, alcohol, medications etc. 
  • Alcohol – ethanol found in alcoholic drinks inhibits methylation
  • Toxins and Chemicals  – there can be a higher load placed on the methylation cycle than the body can keep up with when there is repeated exposure or ingestion of chemicals such as BPA, pesticides or many other chemicals. Also, elevated tissue levels or excess exposure to heavy metals such as lead, cadmium(smoking or second hand smoke) and mercury.

Our functional nutrition approach looks at the individual in their entirety in order to assess for and correct methylation imbalances.


Methylation Explained in Wellington and Miramar | Total Health Chiropractic