Optimizing Methylation for Wellness
I’d like to explore an exciting topic in integrative and functional medicine that influences our total well being- how we feel, how we age and how we look. This important process is called methylation. What is methylation?
Methylation is a biochemical process that happens billions of times per second, most frequently in our brain and liver. In chemistry terms, to methylate means to add a carbon to another molecule (three hydrogens come along for the ride). This small and simple addition, of one single carbon, "tags” or activates the molecule. Sounds simple, right? The consequences of this simple biochemical step running smoothly--and the disastrous effects when it does not--may surprise you.
Methylation is foundational for major body processes including detoxification, immune function, DNA building and repair, energy production, mood balance and acute and chronic inflammation. As you can see by this list, methylation impacts every cell and tissue in our body. You better believe radiant, clear skin is only possibly with healthy methylation!
What symptoms occur when we don't methylate well?
Since methylation affects every cell in your body, it can contribute to many different medical conditions. Most common conditions include cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's and other neurological conditions, autism spectrum disorders, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, fertility including miscarriages, immune system issues, digestive problems, psychiatric disorders and premature aging. Given the broad range of disease processes impacted, the symptoms can range from depression, anxiety, PMS, irregular menses, infertility, hair loss, skin rashes, headaches, difficulty sleeping, sensitive skin, allergies, acne, chronic infections and heart disease. I think we have all experienced one of these! Up to this point, most research on methylation has occurred in fields other than dermatology, but expect to learn much more in the next 5-10 years. But don't wait to take action until then!
How do I test my own methylation capacity?
How well you methylate is significantly determined by genetics, but environment matters a great deal as well. Well over half the population has a genetic variant of one or more of the 20+ genes involved in methylation. In this case, a variant always indicates impaired methylation. Genetic testing to determine if you have one or more variants is now affordable, and we regularly test individuals in the office. Many medical clinicians--in fact all practitioners--are still learning about methylation. If possible, seek out integrative providers and make sure your practitioners are as informed as Rachael!
How do I optimize methylation?
Optimizing your methylation is key to better health and less symptoms. There are several simple ways to help support this process. The first would be to check your supplements and multivitamins for the correct form of B vitamins and folate--it is best to avoid non methylated B vitamins like folic acid because they can slow down and interfere with the methylation process. Instead always look for methylated folic acid--methyl folate. In addition, when choosing vitamin B12, look for adenosylcobalamin, hydroxocobalamin or methylcobalamin, but never cyanocobalamin. Cyanocobalamin, the cheapest and most common form of B12, contains cyanide! There are several more important steps to optimize methylation, but this is a great start.
Another gentle and safe recommendation would be to make sure you are getting enough magnesium and zinc- both are essential cofactors for methylation. Contact us for lists of foods that are rich in both nutrients. In addition, it is helpful to support your body’s natural detoxification process. This can be done by limiting your toxin exposure-eating organic, avoiding products that contain endocrine disruptors, limiting alcohol and caffeine and drinking filtered water. We can also aid our liver and lymph in detoxifying by exercising regularly, using a sauna, dry brushing and eating vegetables rich in antioxidants.
When we optimize our methylation, we feel well and we all know when we feel better we look better.