Dr. G - Health Column
Introduction to Methylation
Methylation is simply the addition of a Methyl group (one carbon atom attached to three hydrogen atoms) to other substrates in our body. These substrates can be DNA, RNA, proteins etc., and this process happens over 1 million times per second, to make sure that some of our basic biological functions are working properly. These functions include respiration, blood circulation, growth and much more.
Each person’s methylation function will vary. To determine how well someone’s methylation is, we must understand what is called the Methylation cycle. The methylation cycle consists of a variety of mini biochemical reactions that lead to one another, forming a cycle. One of these biochemical reactions is responsible for generating methyl groups that will be added on to a large variety of substrates, and the action of adding a methyl group to different substrates will result in pushing forth different biological functions. For example, a methyl group is added to norepinephrine which becomes epinephrine (both neurotransmitters), this process is responsible for triggering our “fight or flight” response when exposed to stress. The same methylation process applies to many other types of substrates that are responsible for other basic biological functions.
Imagine a circuit made of batteries and lightbulbs, with the wires in the circuit representing the biochemical reactions of the methylation cycle, and the lightbulbs representing the crucial functions in our body. If one of the wires is broken (a problem with one of the biochemical reactions), the lightbulb will not light up (a defect with one of our important bodily functions). In addition to that, because the circuit runs in a loop, if one reaction stops working, our methyl group generating reaction will also be affected. So, to provide strong support to our body’s vital functions, we should ensure that our methylation cycle is functioning properly.
The science-y part of the methylation cycle
Going further into the methylation cycle, a more scientific view of the cycle consists of several metabolites that play a key role in ensuring that an appropriate amount of methyl groups is constantly generated, as well as maintaining support for other biological functions.
Starting at what is usually considered the “beginning” of the cycle, is methionine. Methionine is an essential amino acid and can be found in foods containing protein, and its ability to convert into Sulphur-containing compounds, some of which are also found in the methylation cycle. One of methionine’s important roles is the regeneration of new proteins upon the process of breaking down old proteins. This process can happen as some of the protein in your muscles wear out after working out, and methionine steps in to produce new proteins.
S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAM) and S-Adenosyl Homocysteine (SAH)
Methionine forms what is called S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAM). SAM converts into S-Adenosyl Homocysteine and a methyl group. The methyl groups are added to substrates (This process is called methylation). Alongside SAM’s role in forming methyl groups, it also helps to produce and regulate hormones and maintain cell membranes. Because of the numerous functions methylation applies to, SAM supplements have various potential effects, such as relieving problems associated with heart disease, liver disease, treating psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and more. Recently, there has been a rise in research of SAM’s effects as a pain reliever which could be helpful to people suffering from osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and PMS.
SAH breaks down into Homocysteine and Adenosine. Homocysteine is the next metabolite involved in the methylation cycle, and it stands in the crossroad leading to several pathways. Homocysteine can be converted back to methionine with the aid of vitamin B12 enzymes (hence the term methylation cycle), or it can be driven towards another pathway, the transsulfuration pathway which produces master antioxidant, glutathione. Homocysteine is also a biomarker for age-related neurodegenerative diseases and is associated with hypertension (high blood pressure) and cardiovascular disease.
The benefits of a functioning methylation cycle
Because methyl groups can be added to so many different substrates, and each substrate has its own function in the body, the methylation cycle is indirectly affecting how our body works as a whole, and can be the cause of problems associated with the following areas:
- Cardiovascular health
- Joint health (Protein synthesis from genes)
- Mental health (neurotransmitter synthesis)
- Energy production
- Anti-aging (Telomere protection)
- Hormonal regulation
While most symptoms associated with the health areas above can be diagnosed by health professionals, what we can do beforehand, is to understand our body’s current state of methylation and act to improve the areas that are lacking. Upon understanding how our body’s methylation mechanism works, we should regularly monitor our conditions, and make adjustments based on our current status, leading us to optimal health.
What can affect our methylation?
Nutrition: A big part of our methylation is driven by what we eat.
- Methionine, playing a major role in the cycle can only be obtained from food.
- Vitamins B12, B6, folate and minerals such as magnesium and potassium can also affect how well your methylation cycle is performing. They can be found in foods such as:
Smoking and alcohol consumption: Smoking increases homocysteine levels and decreases Vitamin B12 levels, both of which contribute to increasing cardiovascular disease risk. Alcohol consumption could cause depletion of master antioxidant glutathione, and the body will attempt to replenish glutathione by using homocysteine to produce more glutathione and less methionine. Lowered methionine levels reduces the methylation of substrates and can affect overall health.
Genetics: Certain genes are responsible for expressing how well a particular process works within your methylation cycle, and with each person, this genetic code may vary. With current knowledge of genetics and its relation to the methylation cycle, scientists are able to assess how well your methylation pathway works by looking at a methylation pathway-targeted genetics test result (See GMDAI Methylation).
Dr. G’s solutions
How do I know my body’s methylation ability?
MethylDrive examines genes involved in an individual’s methylation cycle. This test can be combined with Methyla to find out about the pathway’s performance.
Methyla examines the individual’s methylation performance according to the components involved in the methylation pathway from a metabolic perspective.
How can I improve my methylation ability?
GMDAI Methylation through a combined analysis of the genetic and metabolic information of the individual’s methylation performance, this panel provides a custom designed plan for intervention of methylation defects.