What Is Methylation And Why Does It Matter?

What is methylation, and why does it matter? 

Did you know that you might not be healing from your injuries or COVID because of poor methylation? The good news is that there are steps you can take to improve your methylation, which is directly related to recovery and performance. 

Methylation refers to the donation of an active methyl group between molecules. A methyl group is a protein that consists of three hydrogen atoms attached to one carbon atom. Methylation is required for many metabolic processes, as shown in the table below. Each of the functions in the left column requires methylation. 

What is methylation and why does it matter?

Over 50% of the population has impaired methylation. This means our bodies cannot donate that active methyl group between molecules.

What are some of the effects of impaired methylation? 

  • Depression and anxiety 
  • Histamine intolerance 
  • Weak immune function 
  • Higher risk of cancer 
  • Poor detox capacity 
  • Hormone imbalance 
  • Infertility/birth defects 
  • Fatigue and low energy

What causes us to be poor methylators? Much like everything else, it’s partly the hand of cards you’re dealt (genetics) and partly how you play them (the environmental factors). 

First, let’s talk about things over which we have control: environmental factors. 

One environmental cause is nutrient deficiency. Methylation pathways require specific nutrients. If they are inadequate, we cannot methylate properly. 

B12 and folate are highlighted as they are two of the common deficiencies. Interestingly, people who eat healthy, whole-food diets are more likely to be deficient in folate as they are not eating fortified foods.

What is methylation and why does it matter?

Methylation is also impaired by environmental toxins, high estrogens, acute or chronic stress, chronic infection, immune challenge, mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), and histamine intolerance. 

Certain medications, including oral contraceptives, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), antibiotics, nitrous oxide, cholestyramine, and valproic acid, will also impair methylation. 

Genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPS) can lead to reduced methylation capacity. Many people have heard of the MTHFR SNP, which is present in about 40% of the population. Homozygous MTHFR can diminish methylation by up to 75%. There are many other SNPs with varying levels of diminished enzyme activity.

You can’t change your genes but you can optimize your methylation. There are high dose methyl-donor supplements you can take, however we don’t know the long-term effects. They have been associated with possible immune dysfunction.

Ideally, supplementing with 5-MTHF at a dose of 200mcg-400mcg per day is a good start. Additionally, and more importantly, we should eat foods supporting methylation.

The table below shows foods that support methylation. The foods in ALL CAPS are the most important. Organ meats and fish are great nutrient-dense foods to support your methylation. 

What is methylation and why does it matter?