Methylation is one of the body’s most important and commonest chemical processes, occurring many times a second in every cell and organ of the body. Methylation is a process that is vital for our health and wellbeing and can be simply summed by as the addition of a methyl group, or ‘CH3’, to many chemical compounds in the body. This article will explain what this means to you.
The process of methylation, and the potential serious health risks associated with impaired methylation functions, is little known by the public, and this health topic seldom reaches any prominence in the mainstream media.
Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill, PhD, is an international Hormone Health Specialist and author who also sits on the advisory panel of the charity Thyroid UK. Her article below sets out to demystify the methylation process and clarify how important it is to us all. She encapsulates this importance in the title – ‘Methylation: energy for life and living!’.
Methylation is a fundamental of your metabolism and if things aren’t running effectively a wide variety of health problems can emerge and look like they may have ‘other causes’! Heart disease, autoimmune diseases, thyroid dysfunction, hormone and neurotransmitter imbalances, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, asthma, psychological issues such as depression and anxiety and even cancer can be related to, or caused by, poor methylation. Methylation is an amazing cycle that is important to how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally.
So what is methylation?
You can see from the extensive layers of health and wellbeing mentioned above that methylation must be a pretty fundamental process and you’re right. It’s a metabolic process that is essential to each and every cell in your body – even your DNA. In a nutshell, methylation is a cycle that facilitates many other metabolic cycles in the body.
Homocysteine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is produced as part of the methylation cycle and is, therefore, an important indicator of methylation status, ie. how efficiently you are methylating. If homocysteine is too high you are not methylating effectively. Homeocysteine can become too abundant when vitamin deficiencies are present and these are often related to poor diet and lifestyle choices.
The cycle has four key steps that change homocysteine into methionine and then methionine into SAMe (S-AdenosylMethionine), and then SAMe into SAH (S-AdenosylHomocysteine), or back to homocysteine that needs a methyl donor so that it can start the process again! The enzymes that facilitate this metabolic process need cofactors in the form of active B vitamins (B6, B12 and folic acid). B12 deficiency, especially in older adults, is known to be prevalent.
An important methyl donor is betaine, also called trimethylglcycine (TMG) and this is something that can be supplemented. Many people may be deficient in betaine because of metal toxicity, stress or inflammation, for example. As the TMG donates in the methylation cycle it becomes Dimethylglycine (DMG). DMG is an amino acid that can help with chronic fatigue, neurological function, liver function, inflammatory conditions, as well as respiratory disorders and improving the body’s use of oxygen. It can also support the normalisation of blood pressure and blood glucose and help to lower cholesterol. But remember, this ‘product’ is part of a metabolic process and it’s better to support the process rather than intervene and supplement directly: an important tenet of a more holistic, or at least systems-based, approach to supporting health and wellbeing.
My expertise is with regard to hormone health and I’d like to share with you why methylation is so important for women. Let’s look briefly at a couple of common female hormone problem areas: PMS and menopause.
PMS is a very common monthly issue that can manifest as mood swings, tender breasts, bloating, heavy bleeding and sugar cravings (caused by higher oestrogen giving an insulin surge that drops blood sugar and that’s why women get the chocolate munchies before their period!). PMS is due to oestrogen dominance, which can be because of a failure to ovulate that brings in the balancing progesterone, or because the liver isn’t detoxifying oestrogen very effectively.
Methylation capability is an essential part of Phase II liver detoxification of oestrogens and in particular with regard to whether the oestrogen is broken down into softer, safer oestrogens or harsher and potentially more damaging oestrogen metabolites. Essentially, good methylation in oestrogen metabolism will support the production of 2-methoxyestrogens, which may provide protective effects from harsher oestrogen metabolites.
This is an important process that can go a long way to making each monthly cycle more comfortable and less draining, as well as providing a protective element regarding the risk of breast cancer.
Menopause is the next stage of a woman’s life that can cause many more changes than women expect – it’s not all hot flushes and night sweats! Menopause can include problems with sleeping, feelings of anxiety and depression as well as fatigue. People often think that menopause is purely about the drop in oestrogen – it’s not. The vast majority of women that I see with their test results have adequate oestrogen, but they lack progesterone. Better hormone balance here can make a big difference as it will potentiate oestrogen, which is beneficial to methylation.
Through the ageing process, a history of poor diet and lifestyle choices as well as life stress, a woman’s methylation capacity may be compromised and this can lead to problems with anxiety, depression and hot flushes, making the menopause experience very difficult and also increasing risk factors for other age-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
- Look at diet and lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol, cut down on stimulants, such as tea and coffee, and increase vegetable consumption;
- Look at supplementing your diet with B vitamins and betaine to support your methylation cycle;
- Reduce stress if you can. This can be a difficult one as we all try to cram so much into our day. Perhaps you need to start with making sure that you turn off your mobile phone at a certain point in the evening until 8 am next morning to give yourself, and your loved ones, a break?
- You can even explore getting your homocysteine level checked as it is a good reference point as to whether you are methylating effectively.
The support of methylation can be a big and easy win for your health and quality of life. It supports so many basic processes that it’s worth considering as a basic underpinning to many chronic health problems and just see where it takes you!
© Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill, PhD
Hormone & Holistic Health Specialist
Harley Street – Jersey – International
For those who would like more information here are a few links with suggested and appropriate reading material:
Methyl Magic – a book written some years ago, but was at the forefront of promoting methylation information
A popular and newer book focusing on homocysteine is: ‘Homocysteine Solution’
An article on Nutrition and Depression in Psychology Today that discusses the importance of methylation in mental health: Nutrition, Methylation, and Depression
Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill is a leading holistic hormone health specialist with practices in Harley Street, London, Jersey in the Channel Islands and an international virtual clinic with patients all over the world. She is a fervent supporter of the charity Thyroid UK, being a Trustee and on their advisory panel, supporting their aims of promoting better thyroid health.
Alyssa has a background in health that stretches over 20 years – with an academic background in health promotion (MSc) and a PhD focused on ‘Holistic healing from breast cancer through the lens of hormones: Synopsis and synthesis’. More recently she has published a book ‘Weight Loss Winners & Dieting Downfalls’. More information about her and her book can be found by following the link below:
With many thanks to Alyssa for this informative and enlightening article.
If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time. If you want to be alerted by email when a new post is published simply add your email address in the ‘Get The Latest Post By Email’ in the right-hand column.
Amanda Williams, Cytoplan Ltd
firstname.lastname@example.org, 01684 310099
RELEVANT BLOG LINKS:
Cytoplan Blog: We are what we eat? We are also what our mother ate at the time of conception
Cytoplan Blog: Methylfolate and Homocysteine
Cytoplan Blog: Can B-Vitamins Help Deter Alzheimer’s & Dementia?