Simple ways to support your Methylation
Proper nutrition is one of the key factors in healthy aging. The food that you eat has profound effects on overall health.
This is not surprising news; we all know the saying “you are what you eat”. Not only do we feel terrible after crushing a box of glazed donuts, but our nutrition actually impacts our epigenetic profile.
In very simple and generalized terms, epigenetics is the process of switching genes ON or OFF. These genes, within cells, provides instructions on how to make important proteins in your body. What you eat can influence which genes are switched from ON to OFF or vice versa. In many age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s disease or in certain types of cancers, genes are wrongly switched to a position opposite to the healthy normal state.
During the last decade, epigenetic studies focused on optimal nutrition to improve overall wellbeing and healthy aging. B-vitamins, choline, and other key nutrients are emerging as epigenetic modifiers. They have one thing in common, they all play a critical role in methylation.
What is methylation?
Methylation consistently occurs all over the body, it’s the simple process of adding a “methyl group” onto other molecules, gene or enzyme to either block or encourage their function. For example, dopamine becomes inactivated, while melatonin becomes activated when a methyl group is added. The body needs a pool of methyl groups to function properly, too much or too little can cause problems. Certain conditions have been linked to an imbalance in methylation
- Mental health disorders
- Nervous system disorders
- Aging related diseases
Healthy methylation can be influenced by:
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Genetic mutations
The methyl groups are produced in a process called the methylation cycle. This cycle dependents on a number of vary important nutrients (B-vitamins, choline, amino acids etc).
You need a well working methylation cycle to function both physically and mentally. This cycle is involved in
- Immune response to fight infection
- Energy production and mitochondrial health
- Anti-inflammation response
- Hormone balance,
- Heavy metal detoxification
- Genetic expression and DNA repair
- Neurotransmitter synthesis and breakdown
- Production and recycling of glutathione (the most powerful antioxidant)
Basically, you need the methylation cycle for everything in your body.
How does the methylation work?
The nutrients from the food you eat supports the methylation cycle. This cycle is extremely complicated but essentially it produces methyl groups and provides the energy the body needs to function properly.
The first step of the methylation cycle is to pick up a methyl group to convert folate into methyltetrahydrofolate (MTHF) via the enzyme called methyltetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). MTHF is involved in the conversion of homocysteine into the amino acid methionine. Build-up of homocysteine is known to damage blood vessels.
Methionine is used to make other proteins and molecules like glutathione. Through several chemical reaction and methyl changes, this cycle is critical to the synthesis and repair of genetic materials. It’s also important for gene expression.
Figure 1: Brief summary of the methylation cycle. The methylation cycle is the results of interwinned communication between methionine, folate, and the BH4 cycle. These biological interactions affects inflammation, DNA repair, detoxification, energy production and balance of neurotransmitters. Adequte supply of nutrients are necessary for healthy methylation cycle to occure. B6: Vitamin B6, B12: Vitamin B12, 5-MTHF: 5- methyltetrahydrofolate, MTHFR: methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, TMG: Trimethylglycine.
Which nutrients are involved in the methylation cycle?
We get it, the methylation cycle is crucial for wellbeing, and its extremely complicated. However, the nutrients that you eat doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be simple.
Various B-vitamins are cofactors for methylation, this means that B vitamins like folate, B12, B6, and B2 all play a role in this cycle. Methylation cannot work properly if there isn’t enough of B-vitamins. A good indication of various B-vitamin deficiency is increase in homocysteine. In cases of deficiencies, Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 can correct homocysteine levels.
Poor methylation can also impact the body’s ability to produce glutathione. Important functions of glutathione include:
- Powerful antioxidant
- Involved detoxification
- Boost immune functions
- Important in repair cell damage
The methylation cycle is also intertwined with synthesis of amino acids into neurotransmitters.
- Tyrosine into dopamine
- Dopamine into norepinephrine and epinephrine
- Tryptophan into serotonin
- Serotonin into melatonin
The proper balance of these neurotransmitters is important in
- Attention, focus, and attention
The methylation cycle is so important, there is a backup system. The backup system relies on the essential nutrient choline. When folate is low, choline can convert homocysteine to methionine and maintain the cycle. Choline is also involved in the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and the fatty acid phosphatidylcholine.
How to supports a healthy methylation cycle?
Although the mechanism between methylation and aging needs more exploration, certain factors such as nutrition appear to play a critical role in aging. Increase in specific nutrients may help support a healthy methylation cycle.
Folate (vitamin B9) is not just for pregnant or nursing women, food rich in folate should be incorporated in each meal. A great source of folate includes
- Dark leafy greens like spinach
- Nuts and beans
- Whole grain
- Citrus fruits such as oranges
Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal products, and it’s very important for vegetarians and vegans to pay close attention to their B12 levels. A multi-nutrient can be a great addition for vitamin B12, look for the active methylated form of B12, methylcobalamin. The inactive, cheap, and unmethylated form of B12, cyanocobalamin, will do nothing for you if you have a methylation problem. Food high vitamin B12 includes.
- Beef liver
- Dairy product
Vitamin B6 is basically involved in almost all of not all amino acid metabolism. Active form of B6 to look for is pyrodixal-5-phosphate. Food rich in vitamin B6 includes
- Starchy vegetables
A great proportion of the population is low in choline, and common symptoms are brain fog, and poor memory. Choline must be a nutrient that is consume every day. Food rich in choline includes
- Fish such as salmon
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Beef liver
This amino acid doesn’t get enough credit. The majority of glycine is converted into collagen for skin, bones, joints etc. Glycine also plays a role in buffering methylation, so basically keeping the methyl group pool healthy. It also reduces homocysteine when the diet is too high in the amino acid methionine, which is found in muscle protein. Most of the population is low in glycine since our protein mostly come from muscle meat, where glycine is found in meat’s skin and bones. One of the best sources of glycine is hydrolyzed collagen, but it is also found in
- Bone broth
- Poultry skin
Methylation also need to be supported by magnesium. A large portion of the population is low in magnesium. Magnesium is found in
- Seeds and nuts
- Dark leafy greens
Methylation and aging
Methylation is a complex system, and although diet is simply one contributor among several factors, it cannot be ignored that a healthy diet an important health predictor. The nutritional intervention in epigenetics and aging is still quite new, however data suggest that proper nutrition can have long lasting epigenetic patterns. The bottom line is, nutrition can maintain methylation and healthy methylation cycle supports healthy aging.