Methylation: The Invisible Process In Charge of Your Gut, Hormone, and Mental Health

Key Points:

  • When you consume nutrients, you consume a lot of raw material that must be converted into a form the body can use. How does that raw material turn into hormones, neurons, and more? The process is called methylation — and it focuses on transferring methyl from one molecule to another in order to create bioactive compounds.

  • Methylation is responsible for hundreds of functions in the body. While methylation has become a hot-button topic in the wellness world, its effects on health are still being studied. The best way to improve methylation is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet.

  • A gene mutation called MTHFR can affect your body’s methylation process — particularly your ability to create the active B vitamin folate. About 25% of the population carries this gene mutation. Certain symptoms may clue you into whether or not you are a carrier of MTHFR.

Methylation is the transfer of simple molecules in the body to bioactive compounds. Sound complicated? Here’s a less sciency way of saying it (for everyone who wasn’t a biology major): 

The process of methylation captures non-usable raw materials in the body and turns them into usable materials. 

When methylation is functioning properly, a methyl group (consisting of four atoms — one carbon and three hydrogens), will transfer from one molecule to another. 

It’s like turning on a light switch in the body. When methylation is turned on, this process can optimize heart health, sleep, libido, hormones, gut health, mental health, and so much more. When methylation is turned off, many processes of the body will struggle to function at the highest level. 

So who should care about the methylation process?

The answer is — everyone. 

But particularly people who struggle with food sensitivities, poor sleep, hormones, thyroid issues, or chronic illness.

What Is Methylation and Why Is It Important?

Never heard of methylation before this moment? It’s not something we learn about in health class, but this biochemical process is involved in over 200 functions in the human body. 

If your body can create hormones, proteins, and regenerate cells, you can thank methylation. It’s kind of like an On switch for many pathways in the body.

When methylation is performing at its best, it can help regulate:

  • Gene expression
  • Detoxification
  • Reproduction
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Hormone production
  • Sleep cycles

…and those are just a few of the benefits of optimal methylation.

How Poor Methylation Leads to Disease

Since the process of methylation can be found throughout the entire body, it only makes sense that poor methylation can cause rampant, multi-system distress. 

Here are some symptoms to watch for if you suspect you may struggle with poor methylation:

  • Nervous system issues
  • Gut dysbiosis
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Trouble sleeping (especially reaching the REM phase)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Heart problems
  • Addiction

Although genetic testing may harbor some answers for curious investigators, this method isn’t necessarily recommended as a diagnostic approach to evaluate your methylation performance.

Instead, it may be more beneficial to look at your risk for MTHFR (we’ll talk about this in the next section) and to evaluate your overall diet, exercise, stress levels, and other lifestyle habits. 

Methylation and MTHFR

What is the MTHFR gene and how does it relate to methylation? 

MTHFR is a gene mutation that may affect your body’s methylation process and efficiency. It’s technically considered an autoimmune disease. According to studies, about 25% of people carry this gene.

People with the MTHFR gene could struggle to convert the components of vitamin B9 (folic acid) into a usable source (folate). Essentially, the methylation process for folate may be hindered or nonexistent — so the whole body misses out on the essential benefits of folate.

While MTHFR hasn’t been extensively studied yet, it is suggested that this genetic mutation may be associated with symptoms like:

  • Fertility issues
  • Frequent miscarriage
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Neural tube defects in pregnancy
  • Mental illness

If you find out you’re a carrier of MTHFR, don’t panic. It’s possible you might not exhibit any symptoms. If you do, those symptoms are manageable and there are a number of nutrients, supplements, and interventions available. 

An MTHFR diagnosis isn’t the end of your physical health — it’s simply a clue that helps you approach treatment and healing.

How Methylation Affects Your Cells

Remember how methylation can turn processes in the body on or off? It can do this with your genes too. This is called DNA methylation.

DNA methylation and cell differentiation work hand in hand to activate (or deactivate) gene expression in the body. Yep, methylation and the function of your cells can directly impact your traits and personality. When you think about improving methylation, remember to keep cell differentiation and your DNA in mind.

Supplements to Improve Methylation

What can you do to ensure your body is turning on necessary functions when it needs to? Improve methylation. Luckily, there are a number of natural ways to improve methylation with nutrition and supplementation:

  • Coenzyme Q10

Along with its stellar heart benefits and anti-aging properties, CoQ10 has been associated with improved methylation. One study documents enzyme repair and DNA methylation improvement in breast cancer patients.

  • Phosphatidylcholine 

Nearly half of your body’s methylation processes go toward producing Phosphatidylcholine. Supplementing with PC supports healthy homocysteine levels and supplies your body with choline which may indirectly affect methylation in the body. 

  • Folinic or L-Methylfolate 

If you have the MTHFR gene, your body may struggle to create enough folic acid. This vitamin is particularly necessary for a healthy pregnancy and hormone balance. A daily supplement of methylfolate or folinic acid, a methyl-free form of folate, is recommended. These are the optimized forms of folate. 

  • Vitamin B-6 and B-12

These vitamins are part of a chain reaction in the body. They’re needed to produce methionine, which creates SAMe, which carries methyl to the molecule that needs to be “turned on.” Whew — what a journey. While it’s a round-about way to improve methylation, making sure you get enough of these essential vitamins in the right form has many more benefits besides. 

Support Methylation Naturally for Optimal Health

While health and wellness gurus are pushing methylation, it’s a process that still isn’t widely understood. Certain supplements and nutrients recommended around the internet may not actually improve your symptoms or do anything for the methylation process.

But one vitamin we know does a lot of good for poor methylation patients is folate. Especially if you suspect MTHFR, the optimized forms of folate should be on your list of essential daily supplements. 

For more information about folate, the difference between folate and folic acid, and its role in pregnancy and fertility, check out our folate blog.

References

Graydon, J. S., Claudio, K., Baker, S., Kocherla, M., Ferreira, M., Roche-Lima, A., Rodríguez-Maldonado, J., Duconge, J., & Ruaño, G. (2019). Ethnogeographic prevalence and implications of the 677C>T and 1298A>C MTHFR polymorphisms in US primary care populations. Biomarkers in medicine, 13(8), 649–661. https://doi.org/10.2217/bmm-2018-0392


Brecka, Gary (2021). What Is Methylation? Streamline Medical https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igCK2QxgVJw


Kandi, V., & Vadakedath, S. (2015). Effect of DNA Methylation in Various Diseases and the Probable Protective Role of Nutrition: A Mini-Review. Cureus, 7(8), e309. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.309


Premkumar, V. G., Yuvaraj, S., Shanthi, P., & Sachdanandam, P. (2008). Co-enzyme Q10, riboflavin and niacin supplementation on alteration of DNA repair enzyme and DNA methylation in breast cancer patients undergoing tamoxifen therapy. The British journal of nutrition, 100(6), 1179–1182. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114508968276


Sant, K. E., Nahar, M. S., & Dolinoy, D. C. (2012). DNA methylation screening and analysis. Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.), 889, 385–406. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-61779-867-2_24

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