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Your Body Is A Chemistry Lab – Today’s Lesson: Methylation

December 28, 2010

Standing in the aisles of your local health food store or shopping on a any number of websites, it’s easy to be daunted by what supplements you should take. Next to fish oil, methylating nutrients make the top of my list for good health on many levels. But what the heck does it mean to be methylating? Technically, methylation is the subtracting or adding of a “methyl group” (one carbon and three hydrogen atoms) to some other molecule – like a protein or DNA.  This process is going on all the time in your body and it’s crucial to you staying in optimal health. It’s often been said in functional medicine circles that “if you don’t methylate well, you aren’t well”. Serotonin, for example needs to be methylated in order become active – without this process your serotonin will be low and you may feel depressed or have trouble sleeping. A compound called homocystine needs to be methylated in order to regenerate the important amino acid methionine – failure to do so is dangerous for cardiovascular health.  Adrenaline must be methylated in order to get out of your system so that you can “wind down” – lacking methylation here could leave you anxious or wide awake come bed time.  These are just a few of the scads of methylation reactions happening right now that are keeping inflammation down, detoxification running smoothly, hormone metabolism up to par and your mood on even keel. Know this: if you support methylation your entire body will benefit. With nearly every system in your body affected by this chemical reaction, your mood, PMS, sleep quality and mood will all be better when it’s clipping along smoothly. Consider supporting this system with:  B vitamins (particularly B12, B6, and folic acid), trimethyl-glycine (also known as betaine) and SAMe. Wondering how your metylation stacks up? You can see homocystine levels on a simple blood test or you can have various alternative testing done to see markers of methylation (see www.metametrix.com for more information or find a functional medicine practitioner). B vitamin status is seen in a common CBC, aka a complete blood count, and more specifically B12 levels are checked with a test called methylmalonic acid. (Note: blood levels of folic acid or B12 are not accurate for B vitamin status, but rather reflect recent vitamin intake from food and supplements. Methylmalonic acid and homocysteine are not routinely run, so you’ll need to ask your doctor.)  There is also a genetic marker for methylation called the MTFR gene that can be tested for as well. When looking for a supplement, I recommend using a combination product of several B vitamins and in light of recent damming evidence on synthetic folic acid, look for a product containing a particular form of folic acid: L-5-methyl tetrahydrofolate, to ensure efficacy and safety.

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