What is methylation and why does it matter?
Methylation is a metabolic process that happens in every cell of the human body and is critical to optimal function. Without methylation life doesn’t exist. Methylation is involved in nearly 200 reactions in the human body. The quality of those methylation reactions ultimately determines our level of health and function.
So what is methylation?
Methylation is the transfer of a chemical fragment called a methyl group (carbon atom linked to three hydrogen atoms) from one molecule to another. These methyl groups act like keys to turn on and off the 200+ methylation reactions in the body. A molecule that donates a methyl group is termed a methyl donor. The most abundant methyl donor in the body is a molecule called SAM (S-adenosylmethionine). Without adequate SAM production and the actual methylation reactions, our health and function can become mildly to severely compromised.
So what does methylation actually do?
Here are the top 10 functions of methylation:
- Gene regulation: Methylation is involved in turning off and on our genes. Methyl donors act like “keys” to turn off and on the expression of the genes. At the root of what causes cancer is hypo or hyper methylation (technically it is a combination of both).
- Biotransformation: The processing of chemicals within the human body is called biotransformation. Methylation is involved in the process of making and degrading chemicals within our bodies, as well processing as those we consume from our environment (xenobiotics).
- Production of neurotransmitters: Methylation is required to make neurotransmitters which are the chemicals our nerve cells use to communicate with each other. Without neurotransmitters, our brain and nervous system just don’t work. Without our brain and nervous system we don’t live.
- Degradation of neurotransmitters: Not only is methylation needed to make neurotransmitters, methylation is needed to break them down and clear them from the body. Without healthy methylation, “fight or flight” neurotransmitters may hang around creating anxiety and fatigue.
- Processing of hormones: Methylation is critical to the processing and clearance of hormones, especially estrogens. If excess levels of estrogens build up in the body, they can create multiple health challenges including cancer.
- Build immune cells: Methylation is involved in the building of your immune cells. Without healthy methylation processes your immune system becomes weak and compromised setting the stage for chronic illness, immune an autoimmune disorders.
- DNA and histone synthesis: Methylation is critical to making your DNA. DNA is the hereditary material that has the code or “secret sauce” for who we are and become. Histones are protein molecules that act like “spools” to wind up, neatly package and organize our DNA.
- Energy production: Without methylation making energy would be nearly impossible. Methylation is critical to the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) the major energy unit of the body. The main focus of eating is to convert food into ATP for energy.
- Produce myelin: Myelin is the protective coating covering nerves. Without the myelin sheath, nerve function can become significantly compromised. Myelin can be damaged via multiple causes and methylation is critical to its generation and repair.
- Build and maintain cell membranes: Without healthy methylation we just don’t have healthy cell membranes (cell walls). Is this a problem? You bet! Without healthy cell walls, cells become leaky and we become sick. Think how uncomfortable you would be if you lived in a cold weather climate in a house without insulation.
So does methylation matter? Without a doubt. At the root of all chronic illness is faulty methylation. The opposite could be said for those that are the healthiest. So whether you are chronically ill and trying to recover, of moderate health and looking to improve, or an athlete looking to fine-tune your body to get optimal performance; everyone can benefit from evaluating and optimizing their methylation processes.