Optimizing methylation can help with depression, stress, allergies and even asthma. A recent meta analysis showed “consistently lower methylation levels observed at all associated loci across childhood from age 4 to 16 years in participants with asthma.” I am particularly interested in this aspect of methylation as my 6 year old son recently had his second asthma attack.
The findings of this meta analysis suggest that further investigation of epigenetics is warranted. This means a focus on how genes expressed. Our health is not determined by our genes. Diet, environment and lifestyle play much more of a role than we thought.
I see women in clinic nearly everyday who are very low in specific nutrients due to a vegan and vegetarian diet. This can have far reaching effects on methylation.
Genetic Factors in Folate Metabolism
Specific genetic variations or SNP’s (single nucleotide polymorphisms) can inhibit methylation. You may have heard of MTHFR. It’s one of the most commonly talked about gene mutations. It relates specifically to methyl folate. The enzyme needed to make this nutrient active is inhibited.
Ensuring you have a folate rich diet is the epigenetic part. We need 2-3 servings at least. I say this because if you are a poor methylator you may benefit from more.
Chris Masterjohn, Phd has a handy phrase to help us remember where to find folate. The 3 L’s are Leafy greens, legumes and liver. One serving is 100 grams so we need between 200 and 300 grams per day of:
- Cooked vegetables. Fresh and local is important. Use the water that you cook them in.
- Double the amount if you are measuring raw vegetables.
- Wash veggies before cutting, blending.
- Folate degrades in frozen veggies so avoid any freezing or frozen products.
- Liver can be weighed before cooking.
- Legumes need to be soaked, rinsed and then cooked.
- Buying sprouted legumes and pressure cooking speeds the process.
- Some people can’t tolerate legumes even if they are prepared in these ways.
Environmental Stressors & Gene Expression
Methylation contributes to detoxification of foreign chemicals and heavy metals. The liver is where most of this happens. What is really fascinating is our cells are constantly adapting to the the demands of their environment. Methylation is one of the key players that assists with this process.
This explains why how some people exposed to certain toxins feel little effect while others may be debilitated.
How does methylation work in the brain?
Proper methylation helps keep your brain flexible and focused. It prevents negative thought patterns from taking over. Associations between poor methylation and alzheimers have been researched.
Decreased methyl folate production is common. There are up to 30 different kinds of MTHFR genetic variations making it difficult to convert folate into its active form,L-methylfolate. Mania, mental illness and depression are linked to some of these mutations.
Allergies, Histamine Intolerance & MCAT
When you are methylating well your body is getting rid of histamines. At the root of most allergic reactions is an overload of histamine causing what some call a histamine response. In the scientific literature this is called mast cell activation syndrome (MCAT). Mast cells mediate immunity and inflammation. Methylating poorly contributes to MCAT. Triggers like chronic stress and trauma can be triggers for MCAT.
How much of these key nutrients do you need?
- Folate or Vitamin B9 requires 2 -3 servings per day of dark leafy greens, sprouted legumes or liver. This essential nutrient cannot by synthesized in the body so must be ingested. L-methylfolate is the active form that can cross the blood-brain barrier. One key function of folate is to help produce serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
- B12 needs to eaten frequently. We can only absorb in a day what is required for that day. Aim for 4-8 grams of liver, 8 grams of clams/oysters, 375 grams of animal protein, 3 glasses of milk or 3 ounces of cheese. Research is being done to assess if nori and chantrelle/shitake mushrooms can provide B12 but this is not yet conclusive. In general vegans/vegetarians are at high risk for B12 deficiency. This is a serious health concern.
- Choline: Egg yolks are an excellent source of choline especially if they are soft. One egg yolk has the same amount of choline as 50 grams of liver or 200 grams of nuts. Two or three egg yolks per day meet our need but don’t eat 600 grams of nuts. Cruciferous veggies are another source as is lecithin. If you are supplementing try alpha GPC or TMJ.
- Glycine: I’ve written at length about glycine. Basically we need 1-2 grams of glycine rich collagen for every 150 grams of protein we eat. You can also supplement with gelatin or have a high protein bone broth as your source of glycine
Are you at higher risk for deficiency?
Anyone over the age of 65 needs to monitor these nutrients. If you have a history of ulcers or gastritis you also are at higher risk for deficiency. Vegetarians and vegans also need to be careful. Poor absorption can indicate the need for supplementation but generally its best to get these essential nutrients from food.
Remember methylation can be the missing link in your health. I want you feeling your best.