Methylation is a process that occurs in our cells, where a small chemical group called a methyl group (CH3) is added to our DNA or other molecules in the body. Though this process may seem simple, it involves complex chemical processes and plays a crucial role in our overall health and wellness. In DNA, methylation can turn off, or silence, specific genes, which can prevent certain diseases from developing. Methylation helps our cells function correctly, supports our immune system, facilitates detoxification pathways, and encourages healthy aging. Methylation is essential for a healthy body and can lead to health concerns when it doesn’t work correctly.
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Methylation and Gene Expression
One of the significant roles of methylation is to help regulate genes. As you might recall from our previous lesson on genetics, gene expression is the process by which the information in genes is used to produce proteins and other biomolecules that carry out specific functions in the body. Gene expression is essentially when the information in our DNA is transformed to be ready for action in our body. Our bodies do not express all our genes at once; that would be chaos. In fact, a considerable part of our health and wellness is the ability to silence, or turn off, genes when appropriate.
Each cell in our body contains our genetic blueprint. We need it to perform a specific function depending on where that cell is located. Gene expression allows genetic information to switch on or off and enables molecules to function at precisely the right time and place. So, each cell in our body is only turning on a small percent of its genes at a time; the percent needed to perform a specific, timely function.
DNA methylation plays a critical role in gene regulation by controlling which genes are switched on or off, which is vital for normal development and body function.
Types of Methylation
Transferring methyl groups to various biomolecules such as DNA, RNA, proteins, and other small molecules is vital to many biological processes. DNA methylation adds or removes methyl groups to specific parts of DNA. This process typically occurs at the position of the nucleotide cytosine in the promoter regions of genes. Adding methyl groups through DNA methylation helps regulate gene expression and the synthesis and breakdown of neurotransmitters, which are crucial chemicals that transmit signals in the brain.
The importance of DNA methylation extends beyond just the brain, as it is also vital for proper development in other organs. DNA methylation also plays a crucial role in maintaining the genome’s stability by preventing inappropriate gene expression changes that could lead to health problems.
RNA methylation involves adding methyl groups to the RNA molecule, typically at the nucleotides adenosine or guanosine position. This process can affect the stability, translation, and localization of the RNA. RNA methylation is a dynamic process that can reverse quickly.
Protein methylation is the process of adding methyl groups to specific amino acids in proteins, which regulates the activity of proteins. Protein synthesis is the process by which our body makes proteins, which are essential for many functions in the body, such as repairing tissues, transporting molecules, and responding to signals. Methylation can also turn off or silence a gene, preventing it from making a protein.
In addition to these types of methylation, small molecule methylation involves adding methyl groups to small molecules such as neurotransmitters, hormones, and other signaling molecules. This process helps regulate the synthesis and breakdown of these molecules, which is crucial for maintaining overall health and wellness.
The Everyday Effects of Methylation
Methylation is an essential process that helps our body function properly. It plays a crucial role in producing neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that transmit signals between neurons in the brain. Methylation produces several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are responsible for regulating our mood, learning, and memory.
Methylation also helps regulate the production and breakdown of hormones, chemical messengers the endocrine system produces. Methylation helps to regulate the production and breakdown of hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Hormones control various bodily functions, including growth, metabolism, and sexual development.
Nutrient metabolism is the process by which the body breaks down and uses the nutrients we consume. Methylation is involved in the metabolism of essential nutrients such as folate, vital for DNA synthesis and red blood cell production, and homocysteine, an amino acid that can build up in our bodies and potentially cause health issues.
Understanding the vital role of methylation is crucial for wellness professionals. Methylation deficiencies can contribute to or exacerbate many health concerns wellness. To help your body achieve optimal health and well-being, identify and address methylation deficiencies when developing plans for achieving your wellness goals.
Nutrigenomics and Methylation
Nutrigenomics is the study of how nutrients interact with our genes to affect our health. It is a rapidly growing field and an efficient and beneficial approach to addressing methylation concerns. A critical aspect of nutrigenomics is the role of nutrients in enabling our bodies to engage in proper and adequate methylation.
Several nutrients are essential for proper methylation, including
- folate (vitamin B9), found in leafy green vegetables, beans, and fortified grains;
- vitamin B12,found in animal products such as meat, fish, and dairy; and
- vitamin B6, found in fish, poultry, and whole grains.
Before being put to work in the body, many vitamins need to be converted into an active form. For example, folate needs to be converted to 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) before engaging in critical bodily functions, including producing red blood cells, converting food into energy, and synthesizing DNA and RNA.
Vitamin B12 is essential for developing and maintaining red blood cells, nerve cells, and myelination (the protective coating) nerve cells. Methylfolate (5-MTHF) and B12 are vital for remethylating homocysteine back to methionine. A form of vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) helps a specific enzyme (methionine synthase) speed up the methylation of homocysteine to create a safer methionine molecule. Homocysteine can be harmful if allowed to build up in our bodies.
Inefficient methylation can lead to immune weakness, early bone loss and increased risk of cognitive decline and mood issues – all concerns associated with Vitamin D. Vitamin K is also vital for people who have a methylation deficiency, as it improves the person’s ability to absorb vitamin D at the cellular level.
Nutrigenomics and methylation are fascinating and important topics for wellness to understand. Understanding how nutrients interact with our genes to affect our health may help you make informed decisions and improve your overall well-being through proper nutrition and supplementation.
Genetic Mutations and Methylation Deficiency
Several genetic mutations, or variations, can impact the body’s ability to complete the methylation processes. Roughly 30 to 50 percent of Americans may have genetically inefficient enzymes that help create 5-MTHF, the metabolically active form of folate.
For example, certain genetic variations may make an individual more prone to high homocysteine levels. This amino acid can adversely affect health when present at high levels in the blood. Inefficient methylation can lead to a buildup of homocysteine.
MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, an enzyme that plays a crucial role in the methylation process. The MTHFR mutation is a genetic variation that can affect an individual’s ability to methylate appropriately.
The MTHFR mutation is relatively common, with estimates suggesting that up to 50% of the population may have some form of the mutation. However, it is important to note that not all individuals with the MTHFR mutation will have methylation problems. The impact of the mutation can vary depending on the specific type of mutation and other genetic and environmental factors. This is a significant reason why NBX nutrigenomic testing recommendations are always based on looking at the overall impact of several key gene variations for each wellness concern.
In addition to the MTHFR mutation, other genetic mutations can contribute to a methylation deficiency. These include mutations in the FOLR1 (folate receptor 1), TCN1 (Transcobalamin 1), and MTR (methionine synthase) genes, amongst other vital genes that influence the efficiency of methylation.
The Importance of Choosing Effective Vitamin Supplements
When it comes to getting the essential vitamin B9, it’s important to remember that not all sources are created equal. Folate and folic acid are both forms of a B vitamin known as Vitamin B9. Folate is the natural form of B9, while folic acid is a synthetic form often added to low-quality supplements and fortified foods. Once absorbed, dietary (and supplemental) B9 has to undergo several biochemical conversions (methylation) in the body to become 5-MTHF. Many individuals may have difficulty converting folic acid to methylfolate, the active form of B9 needed to complete the methylation process.
There are a few notable differences between folate and folic acid. One difference is that folate is water-soluble, while folic acid is not. This means that folate is more easily absorbed by the body and can be excreted more easily than folic acid. Naturally occurring folate still needs to be converted into methylfolate (5-MTHF) in the body. The folic acid found in food must be methylated or cleaved from protein carriers to be absorbed. Natural sources of folate are more easily absorbed and utilized by the body. However, some people have a genetic mutation that may hinder the ability to convert folate into its active form.
Avoiding folic acid is best if you’re looking to boost your vitamin B9 intake. NBX Wellness only includes the active form of folate (5-MTHF) in our supplements, bypassing any absorption or conversion issues.
Visit My NBX Wellness eStore has several exclusive, physician-developed supplements specifically formulated to address methylation concerns, including Methylation Complete and Methylation Pro Topical.
Methylation and Neurodivergence
Methylation plays a role in producing several neurotransmitters important for mood regulation, learning, and memory. Evidence suggests that methylation deficiency may be associated with autism, attention problems, and other neurodevelopmental diagnoses.
Addressing methylation issues through supplementation is not intended to treat a neurodevelopmental diagnosis. More research is needed to understand the relationship between methylation deficiency and neurodevelopmental conditions fully. However, when an individual’s basic cellular health needs are being met, their body has more bandwidth to focus on thriving regardless of whatever challenges they may face.NBX Wellness offers an Autism Starter Kit, which includes our exclusive Methylation Pro Topical.
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