Five Strategies to Improve Methylation and Heal from Chronic Illness
Methylation is the latest buzzword in the health industry and for a good reason. It’s is a biochemical process involved in almost all of your body’s functions!
Without getting too technical, methylation is the addition of a single carbon and three hydrogen atoms (called a methyl group) to another molecule. The removal of a methyl group is called demethylation. Think of billions of little on/off switches inside your body that control everything from your stress response and how your body makes energy from food, to your brain chemistry and detoxification; that’s methylation and demethylation.
Think of methyl groups as the on/off switches for:
- The stress (fight or flight) response
- The production and recycling of glutathione – the body’s master antioxidant
- The detoxification of hormones, chemicals and heavy metals
- The inflammation response
- Genetic expression and the repair of DNA
- Neurotransmitters and the balancing of brain chemistry
- Energy production
- The repair of cells damaged by free radicals
- The immune response; controlling T-cell production; fighting infections and viruses; and regulating the immune response
If you have a shortage of methyl groups, or your methylation cycle is interrupted, any or all of these processes can become compromised, and you will get sick. In fact, research has clearly linked impaired methylation with all autoimmune conditions! 1,2
How to Improve Your Methylation and Raise Your Glutathione
Improving methylation is important for everyone, but it’s especially important if you have ANY kind of chronic illness. One of the reasons is the role of methylation in detoxification and in the production and recycling of glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant and master “splinter” remover. Glutathione directly neutralizes free radicals, reduces hydrogen peroxide into water (reducing inflammation), and assists in the role of other antioxidants like vitamin C, E and lipoic acid. Glutathione contains sulfur groups, which are sticky compounds that adhere to toxins and heavy metals and carry them out of the body. This is good thing and you want lots of it! Studies have linked impaired methylation and low levels of glutathione to every type of autoimmune condition.3
I haven’t met anyone (including me), with any type of autoimmune condition, that has adequate methylation and levels of glutathione!
In a perfect world, your body makes its own glutathione from the amino acids cysteine, glycine and glutamine, and then recycles it via methylation using methyl donors like vitamin B12, folate, betaine and other nutrients. Under normal conditions, your body makes and recycles enough glutathione to handle all the toxins that you’re exposed to. However, if you have a high toxic body burden, or a part of the methylation cycle is disrupted, you can get very sick!
Consider some possible scenarios:
Glutathione can become depleted due to a high toxic load – meaning it gets used up faster than the body can make it. There are many toxins that deplete glutathione: alcohol, cigarette smoke, petrochemicals such as MTBE, pesticides and herbicides to name a few
- Poor nutrition, especially low protein or vegan diets, can leave you without the essential building blocks for glutathione production.
- Your unique “genetic personality” might have difficulty creating and recycling enough glutathione. 4
- You could be lacking the important nutrients (methyl donors), such as B12, folate and betaine, which are needed to produce and recycle glutathione. If you lack enough of these nutrients, it could be due to a deficiency in your diet, or low stomach acid or some other factor like drinking too much alcohol, which impairs your ability to absorb these nutrients.
- You could have toxins, such as heavy metals, blocking your methylation pathways.
- You could have a “genetic trait” that impairs your ability to process folate, which is necessary for methylation. It’s estimated that up to 40 percent of Americans have the MTHFR “trait” and are unable to convert folate from food into its active form (l-methylfolate).
The bottom line is that there are several factors that can contribute to impaired methylation and low glutathione levels. If you have an autoimmune condition, chances are you have one or more of these disrupting factors.
Five Strategies to Improve Your Methylation
For many people, improved methylation is a natural side effect of following the recommendations in The Thyroid Cure, but just in case you don’t have the book here’s a review:
- Eat healing greens! Eating tons of dark leafy green veggies daily provides you with natural folate (a methyl donor), necessary for proper methylation. Make sure to get a minimum of 2 cups of these healing foods per day.
- Get B vitamins and folate: B vitamins are methyl donors, especially folate, B6, B12 and riboflavin. Eating for Your Good Genes approved food sources of B vitamins are: organic chicken and beef liver, fish, eggs, dark leafy greens, asparagus, almonds, sunflower seeds and walnuts. Even if we eat right, most of us still need to supplement with B vitamins. Make sure your B complex or multivitamin contains adequate amounts of these important methylation cofactors. Look for folate in the form of l-methylfolate as Metafolin. Empowerment Formula is the best multivitamin on the market and contains all the B vitamins in the most bio-available form. Note: Dosages of B vitamins vary from person to person – I suggest nutritional testing to make sure you’re getting the right dose. If you suspect that you have impaired methylation, it’s important to start low and go slow. Introducing high-dose B vitamins and folate (l-methylfolate) may improve methylation fast, which can ramp up detoxification, causing pathogens to “die off;” they release toxins as they die and those toxins make you feel sick. This is called a Herxheimer (Herx) reaction, also known as a “healing crisis.” Increased methylation may also mobilize toxins such as heavy metals, which may also make you feel sick if it happens too fast.
- Support methylation with supplements: Make sure you get adequate amounts of magnesium and zinc, which support methylation. Take TMG trimethylglycine (betaine). Note: Dosage varies from person to person.
Replace stomach acid! Remember, low stomach acid can interfere with the absorption of important nutrients such as vitamin B6, B12 and folate.
- Take probiotics: Remember, the good bugs help produce and absorb B vitamins and folate!
- Reduce stress, booze, smoking and toxins: These toxic “splinters”burden and poison your liver, and use up methyl groups! Avoiding toxins, lowering your stress, healing your GI, and consuming foods and supplements that support methylation and can enhance your body’s ability to naturally detoxify and heal.
- Richardson B. DNA methylation and autoimmune disease. Clin Immunol. 2003 Oct;109(1):72-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14585278
- Richardson B, Scheinbart L, Strahler J, Gross L, Hanash S, Johnson M. Evidence for impaired T cell DNA methylation in systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 1990 Nov;33(11):1665-73. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2242063
- Perricone C, De Carolis C, Perricone R. Glutathione: a key player in autoimmunity. Autoimmun Rev. 2009 Jul;8(8):697-701. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1939319
- Habdous M, Siest G, Herbeth B, Vincent-Viry M, Visvikis S. [Glutathione S-transferases genetic polymorphisms and human diseases: overview of epidemiological studies]. [Article in French] Ann Biol Clin (Paris). 2004 Jan-Feb;62(1):15-24. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15047486
- Choi SW, Friso S. Epigenetics: A New Bridge between Nutrition and Health. Adv Nutr November 2010 Adv Nutr vol. 1: 8-16, 2010. http://advances.nutrition.org/content/1/1/8.full
Michelle Corey, C.N.W.C., FMC, is a Wellness Recovery Specialist, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, researcher and author. Michelle studied holistic nutrition at Clayton College of Natural Health and completed a comprehensive 2-year practical program at Academy of Functional Medicine and Genomics. Since reversing her autoimmune condition, Michelle has helped hundreds of people reverse autoimmune and other chronic conditions. She is currently an advisor to the Academy of Functional Medicine and Genomics and the Functional Medical University. She is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants. Michelle and offers Functional Mind-Body healing retreats, workshops and online courses.
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