What is Methylation? Why is it Important?

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Have you been hearing a-lot about methylation lately, and wondering what it’s all about? Methylation is a biochemical process which is involved in a wide range of bodily functions, and is essential to our overall wellbeing. When it is out of balance it may contribute to many different health problems, however certain vitamins can help to support this process to function well.

What is methylation?

Methylation is where a molecule called a ‘methyl group’ is added to another substance, such as DNA or a protein, so the substance receiving the methyl group is able to function. These methyl groups are produced by a process called the ‘methylation cycle’ which involves various molecules found in the body, including S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), homocysteine and methionine, and is dependent on specific nutrients.

What does methylation do in the body?

The methylation cycle helps us to operate both physically and mentally, so it may not be surprising that many different functions in the body use this process.

Such functions include nervous, cardiovascular and immune system activity, as well as energy production, heavy-metal detoxification and hormone balance. Another important bodily function that methylation is connected to is DNA.

Methylation and our genes

Our DNA, which makes up our genes, is like a hard drive that make us who we are. Epigenetics refers to chemical processes that influence how our genes work without actually changing our DNA. Methylation is an example of one epigenetic process that is essential for our DNA to work properly, and it may be the link between our environment, nutrition and disease.

What happens if methylation is imbalanced?

Some conditions that may be affected by an imbalance in methylation include mood and nervous system disorders, allergies, and the ageing process.

Environment, lifestyle and methylation

There are a number of factors known to influence healthy methylation, including:

  • The presence of natural genetic ‘mistakes’
  • Heavy metals, pollution and radiation
  • Inflammation
  • Ageing
  • Nutrition.

Vitamins that help the methylation cycle

An adequate supply of certain B vitamins are necessary for a healthy methylation cycle to occur. Vitamins B2, B6 and B12 are needed for the activity of particular enzymes used by this cycle. Folate (vitamin B9) is a vital nutrient which helps to produce methyl groups which in turn helps methylation to take place. Deficiency of these B vitamins can lead to impairment in the way the methylation cycle works.

What can you do to make sure you have healthy methylation?

While there is no simple fix, minimising exposure to lifestyle and environmental factors known to affect healthy methylation can help. You can also ensure that you have adequate intake of the necessary vitamins that support healthy methylation, through your diet, and through supplementation if necessary.

Signs you may need methylation support

  • Ongoing fatigue
  • Family history of cardiovascular disease
  • Family history of anxiety and depression
  • Poor mood, difficulty concentrating
  • Chronic constipation
  • Issues with inflammation
  • Elevated homocysteine and liver enzymes, low vitamin B12 and red cell folate (in blood testing.)

Speak to your healthcare practitioner for more information about healthy methylation.

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