What On Earth Is Methylation - And What's It Got To Do With Being Sick?!

Methylation is an incredibly important process that happens within the body.  More and more people are discovering they have issues with methylation, which has been the driving factor behind the culmination and presentation of many symptoms.  If methylation is disturbed and is not detected or treated accurately, health essentially depletes slowly, and will continue to do so until the root cause is addressed.

What is Methylation?

Methylation is a process which occurs within the liver.  It is responsible for the addition of specific chemicals (methyl groups) to other chemicals in the body.  This addition of methyl groups is called "methylation" or "methylating".

What does methylation affect?

Toxic metals within the body are methylated to become water soluble, allowing them to be excreted through the kidneys and urine.

Our very own DNA requires methylation so as to remove any harmful sequences, such as retroviruses, from our DNA and ensure only our best genetic expression is occurring.

Cells that lie in our blood vessels need to be methylated in order to be repaired.

Two lovely little white blood cells in our immune system, monocytes and lymphocytes (which help to fight viruses and bacteria), require methylation. 

How does it work?

Methylation is considered a cycle as there are two components to the process; methylation (the giving of methyl groups) and the recycling of homocysteine (adding methyl groups back). 

Methylation occurs from methionine, an amino acid sourced from protein.  Once methylation has occurred and methionine has given away its methyl groups, we are left with a substance called homocysteine.  Homocysteine is not beneficial to the body like methionine.  Homocysteine is toxic to the nervous system and can create lots of inflammation and degradation.  It has the ability to pass through the blood brain barrier as well, which is a protective mechanism that allows only certain substances to enter into the brain.  We don't want homocysteine floating around.

The second part of the methylation process is converting homocysteine back into methionine.  This means the body needs to find some spare methyl groups and add them back onto the homocysteine.  This process can take several different biochemical pathways to achieve this result.

What can go wrong?

If there is a discrepancy in the body's ability to methylate, there are several consequences that can occur, which are listed below. 

However, it is becoming an increasing concern that there are discrepancies occurring in the second part of the methylation process; the recycling of homocysteine back to methionine.  This process requires several enzymes and specific nutrients to facilitate these reactions.  Some people don't have enough of these enzymes, hence their recycling phase falls short.  Some people have a genetic polymorphism which means they can't complete this process.  Some people don't have the specific nutrients required to fuel the process, including vitamin B12, Zinc and vitamin B6).  Either way, the result is an increase in homocysteine and consequent risks and symptoms (let alone symptoms which may be occurring due to nutrient deficiency).  It should be noted that these factors can be pathologically tested.

What happens if I'm not methylating properly?

The consequences of under-methylation include:

·       As toxic metals would not be able to be excreted, there would be an increase in toxic metals, leading to possible toxicity and consequent nutrient deficiency

·       Without unsatisfactory genes being removed from the DNA, the expression of harmful gene sequences and retroviruses will occur.  Various cancers have been linked to an abnormality in the methylation process, leading to the suppression of tumour suppression gene and an increased expression of oncogenes, which lead to the development of cancerous cells.  Our DNA is no longer the best it can be!

·       Increased risk of cardiovascular disease and chronic inflammatory diseases due to increased homocysteine, and decrease in repair mechanisms required in blood vessels

·       Increased risk of autoimmune disease (including systemic lupus erythematosus)

·       Weakened immune system due to under-methylation of certain white blood cells, resulting in more frequent infection

·       Poor memory and increased risk of neural degeneration due to increased homocysteine

There are several other symptoms that may be expressed if there are genetic polymorphisms present and nutrient deficiency.  Anxiety and heavy metal toxicity, as well as B12 deficiency and issues with fertility are common presentations I see in my clinic where the methylation cycle needs to be investigated.

Does your body fit the picture?   We offer pathology referrals for MTHFR testing at our clinic.