All about methylation and what you can do to keep yours healthy
Published: Nov 14, 2016
Author: Georgia Marrion, BHSc(Comp med) AdvDipHSc(Nat) MHumNut
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.1 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.2-4
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,5-8 as well as energy production, heavy-metal detoxification and hormone balance.9-12 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.3,13 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.3,14
What happens if methylation is imbalanced?
Some conditions that may be affected by an imbalance in methylation include mood and nervous system disorders,13,15-16 allergies,17 and the ageing process.18
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
Vitamins that help the methylation cycle
An adequate supply of certain B vitamins are necessary for a healthy methylation cycle to occur.1-2,21 Vitamins B2, B6 and B12 are needed for the activity of particular enzymes used by this cycle.14,21 Folate (vitamin B9) is a vital nutrient which helps to produce methyl groups which in turn helps methylation to take place.14,22 Deficiency of these B vitamins can lead to impairment in the way the methylation cycle works.23
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.)24
Speak to your healthcare practitioner for more information about healthy methylation. Make sure to always read the label and use only as directed. If symptoms persist, see your healthcare practitioner.
To find a practitioner in your area, visit our find-a-practitioner page.
- Johnson AA, Akman K, Calimport SRG, et al. The role of DNA methylation in ageing, rejuvenation and age-related disease. Rejuvenation Res 2012;15(5):483-494.
- McCullough LE, Miller EE, Mendez MA, et al. Maternal B vitamins: effects on offspring weight and DNA methylation at genomically imprinted domains. Clin Epigenetics 2016;8:8.
- Crider KS, Yang TP, Berry RJ, et al. Folate and DNA methylation: a review of molecular mechanisms and the evidence for folate’s role. Adv. Nutr 2012;3:21-38.
- Kim GH, Ryan JJ, Archer SL. The role of redox signalling in epigenetics and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, 2013;18(15):1920-1936.
- Day JJ, Kennedy AJ, Sweatt JD. DNA methylation and its implications and accessibility for neuropsychiatric therapeutics. Ann Rev Pharmacol Toxicol 2015;55:591-611.
- Kinde B, Gabel HW, Gilbert CS, et al. Reading the unique DNA methylation landscape of the brain: non-CpG methylation, hydroxymethylation and MeCP2. PNAS 2015;112(22):6800-6806.
- Martinez SR, Gay MS, Zhang L. Epigenetic mechanisms in heart development and disease. Drug Discov Today 2015;20(7):799-811.
- Zhou S, Zhang Z, Xu G. Notable epigenetic role of hyperhomocysteinemia in atherogeneisis. Lipids Health Dis 2014;13;134.
- Keating ST, El-Osta A. Epigenetics and Metabolism. Circulation Research 2015;116(4):715-736.
- Rahman S, Clarke CF, Hirano M. 176th ENMC International Workshop: diagnosis and treatment of coenzyme Q10 deficiency. Neuromuscul Disord 2012;22(1):76-86.
- Langie SA, Koppen G, Desaulniers D, et al. Causes of genome instability: the effect of low dose chemical exposures in modern society. Carcinogensis 2015;36(Suppl1):S61-88.
- Vrtacnik P, Ostanek B, Mencej-Bedrac S. The many faces of oestrogen signalling. Biochemica Medica 2014; 24(3):329-342.
- Moore LD, Le T, Fan G. DNA methylation and its basic function. Neuropsychopharmacology 2013;38(1):23-38.
- Anderson OS, Sant KE, Dolinoy DC. Nutrition and epigenetics: an interplay of methyl donors, one-carbon metabolism and DNA methylation. J Nutr Biochem 2012;23(8):853-859.
- Lv J, Liu H, Su J, et al. DiseaseMeth: a human disease methylation database. Nucleic Acids Res 2012;.40(Database issue):D1030-1035.
- Shorter KR, Miller BH. Epigenetic mechanisms in schizophrenia. Prog Biophys Mol Biol 2015;118(1-2):1-7.
- Lockett GA, Patil VK, Soto-Ramirez N, Ziyab AH, Holloway JW, Karmaus W. Epigenomics and allergic disease. Epigenomics 2013 December; 5 (6): 685-699.
- Meng G, Zhong X, Mei H. A systematic investigation into ageing related genes in brain and their relationship with Alzheimers disease. PLoS One. 2016;11(3):e0150624.
- Gutierrez-Arcelus M, Lappalainen T, Montgomery SB, Buil A, Ongen H, Yurovsky A et al. Passive and active DNA methylation and the interplay with genetic variation in gene regulation. eLife 2013; 2:e00523.
- Mitchell ES, Conus N, Kaput J. B vitamin polymorphisms and behaviour: evidence of associations with neurodevelopment, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and cognitive decline. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2014;47:307-320.
- Sharma S, Litonjua A. Asthma, allergy and responses to methyl donor supplements and nutrients. J Allergy Clin Immun 2014;133(5):1246-1254.
- Salbaum JM, Kappen C. Genetic and epigenomic footprints of folate. Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci 2012;108:129-158.
- Obeid R. The metabolic burden of methyl donor deficiency with focus on the betaine homocysteine methyltransferase pathway. Nutrients 2013; 5(9):3481-3495.
- What would make me think I might have a mutation in one of these genes or a problem with my methylation cycle? MTHFR support 2016. Viewed 12 Oct 2016, http://www.mthfrsupport.com.au/faqs/