Methylation is a natural chemical process that occurs in a cycle in your body’s cells. Methylation is vital to enable your cells to make other substances work correctly and is one of the body’s most important and most common chemical processes.
If you want to describe the biochemistry of methylation, it is the addition of a methyl group (a carbon surrounded by hydrogen atoms - CH3) to another substance in the body and it occurs around a billion times per second in your body – wow, it must be important!
The process of methylation occurs in all the body’s cells but is especially crucial to healthy liver function.
When a substance receives its methyl group it can go out in the body and perform its functions. Methylation reactions are very common in the body and are involved in most body functions to a significant degree. This is why poor methylation can cause or contribute to almost all health problems.
If your body is slow or inefficient at making this cycle happen correctly, you will be prone to depression, anxiety, inflammation and fatigue and many other problems.
Methylation is a primary method of removing toxins in the phase 2 liver detoxification process.
Methylation converts toxins of all kinds from insoluble or fat-soluble compounds into water soluble compounds. Once these toxins are made water soluble they can then be easily eliminated from the body via watery fluids such as the urine, sweat and bile. If this does not occur these toxins cannot be eliminated and build up in the body.
Methylation tags toxic substances so they can be changed in a way that allows the body to identify them as toxins and then eliminate them rapidly and more easily. Larger toxic molecules are then able to be eliminated through the bile, while smaller ones pass into the blood stream and are removed by the kidneys in the urine and in the sweat.
Some people are inefficient at methylation
- This is because they inherit a gene from their parents that makes them slow at methylating. The gene that controls methylation is called the MTHFR gene and this can be tested for in a blood test. If this gene has some imperfections (known as single nucleotide polymorphisms), then the process of methylation cannot occur correctly and a lack of neurotransmitters causes depression, anxiety and fatigue. In patients with a double copy of this defective gene regular vitamin supplements do not work and they must be given activated vitamins - namely folinic acid instead of regular folic acid.
- They are deficient in the nutrients that the body needs to make the methylation cycle happen correctly – these nutrients include Vitamin B 12, selenium, and folic acid. Certain amino acids are also needed for proper methylation, (such as glycine, cysteine and methionine), and these can be deficient in people who are vegan, have gut problems or take antacid drugs which cause poor absorption of these amino acids.
- They drink excessive alcohol.
- They have been exposed to excess toxins and/or heavy metals.
The regular folic acid form of folate does not work well in people with the abnormal methylation gene. The abnormal gene is known as MTHFR polymorphism. Remember, you can have a blood test to see if you have the abnormal gene. If you have this abnormal gene you will require L-methyl folate or folinic acid.
Most fatigued or depressed patients do not make enough methyl groups (CH3) in their body. Taking the supplements mentioned can increase production of methyl groups and some foods are high in methyl groups.
These foods include lamb, chicken, beetroot, liver, quinoa, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables and green herbs. Cooking green vegetables improves the availability of their methyl groups.
If you are a strict vegan you are likely to be low in methyl groups, as well as vitamin B 12, and may need to supplement. Processed foods are very deficient in methyl groups.