We have all seen the statistics telling us that heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, cancer and other chronic degenerative diseases are on the rise. Not to mention, AIDS, liver disease, auto-immune diseases, Alzheimer’s, and autism spectrum disorders. We can wonder, ‘What do all of these conditions have in common?’ ‘Why do proper diet and nutrition help so many different diseases?’ ‘Do they have a common underlying mechanism?’ ‘What is the Common Ground?’
The Common Ground may just be the Methylation pathway that is active in each and every cell in our body. Methylation has been referred to as the KEY TO ANTI-AGING. Proper methylation can help prevent many of these conditions and contribute to a long, healthy life.
So, what is methylation? Methylation involves methyl groups – consisting of one carbon and three hydrogen atoms – CH3. During methylation, methyl groups are transferred from one molecule to another. This process is continuously occurring in the body (about a billion times per second) and is the key process by which toxins are removed from the body.
The Roles of Methylation Include:
• Influences genetic expression (the way genes tell the body what to do)
• Helps produce neurotransmitters and maintains nerves (myelination)
• Mobilizes fats and cholesterol
• Regulates hormones – estrogen, adrenaline, melatonin
• Detoxifies harmful chemicals and histamine (inflammation)
• Repairs damaged proteins in the cells
• Protects the DNA in the genetic code
• Creates proteins used in the antioxidant defense system
Homocysteine, an amino acid, is found everywhere in our bodies and is vital for life. However, too much homocysteine wreaks havoc on our health and is a major player in heart disease and other inflammatory processes. Homocysteine, harmful as it can be, is also instrumental in the methylation process. Methylation neutralizes excess homocysteine and produces SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine) which facilitates nearly all methylation reactions in the body.
When Things Go Bad:
• Homocysteine accumulates in the cell, inhibiting some types of methylation.
• Detoxification may become sluggish
• Excess homocysteine causes too much S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH) – inhibits methylation
• Homocysteine does not get reconverted to methionine, excess homocysteine leaks out of the cells into the blood plasma.
• Causes problems, most related to degenerative disease.
Disease results from high homocysteine, low SAMe, and poor methylation. The homocysteine/SAMe connection is vital to maintaining health, youth, and longevity. Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid are necessary to reduce homocysteine and keep the methylation process running smoothly.
Methylation is also important for DNA expression or suppression. Methyl groups in the cell turn off the DNA we don’t need or want. When DNA is properly laced with methyl groups, your cells are protected from abnormal expression of DNA. Poor methylation will cause methyl groups to be taken away from the DNA they are suppressing and use them for other purposes.
In addition to the problems created from poor methylation due to nutrient deficiencies, we can have genetic mutations in the key methylation genes that make it even more difficult for our bodies to carry on these important processes. A Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) is a single change that can occur in any portion of the DNA that modify the ability of the DNA to function. SNP’s in the MTHFR, MTR, MTRR and COMP genes can negatively influence our ability to methylate, making our need for vitamins B6, B12 and folate all the more urgent. A SNP does not necessarily mean the activity of the gene is completely ‘off’. It may mean it just functions at a lower efficiency.
Nutrigenomics is the study of how natural products and supplements can interact with particular genes to decrease risk of disease. Most chronic diseases are related to cellular alterations which can, in part, be influenced by nutrients. Remember, the DNA you inherit will not change, so if you have a genetic mutation, it is best to support that process with additional supplementation for your entire life.
Genetic testing can help determine if you have a mutation in any of the key genes that are involved with methylation. These genes include:
MTHFR (Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase):
MTHFR processes folate (folic acid) into a chemical the body can utilize. Mutations in this gene result in decreased activity of the enzyme, which compromises the methylation in our body, causing body functions to become disrupted – which include the ability to eliminate toxins properly. This enzyme is needed to remove homocysteine, thereby reducing inflammation and disease risk. Approximately one third of people have a mutation in this gene. Individuals who have this genetic polymorphism (mutation) will have an increased risk for many degenerative and neurological diseases.
MTR (methionine synthase):
This gene provides instructions for making an enzyme called methionine synthase. This enzyme converts homocysteine back into methionine, preventing the negative build-up of homocysteine in the blood and supplying the methionine integral for DNA methylation to occur. Methionine is then used to make proteins and is necessary for the utilization of methyl-groups from the folate cycle.
Methionine synthase requires methylcobalamin (B12) and another enzyme called methionine synthase reductase (MTRR) to function properly. If there is a mutation in the MTR gene, methionine will not be synthesized correctly and the result will be a buildup of homocysteine in the bloodstream.
COMT is involved in the inactivation and degradation of catecholamine neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. A mutation in this gene is responsible for diminished functional enzyme activity (the ability to degrade and inactivate the catecholamine neurotransmitters). This diminished activity is linked to neurodegenerative diseases (brain disorders) such as dementia, schizophrenia, cognitive tasks, ADHS, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s, as well as emotional impairments such as depression and mood swings.
What Can Be Done?
Targeted genetic testing for methylation genes together with blood testing for homocysteine levels can determine your susceptibility to the many diseases associated with poor methylation. Once the test results are obtained, specific supplementation of B6, B12 and folic acid can be determined. Eating more dark, leafy vegetables and eliminating foods that cause inflammation are paramount to enhance your methylation activity. This is truly our key to a long, healthy life.