Gone are the days when we thought we’re simply victims of our own genetic makeup. More and more research now confirms that it’s not about what genes you’re carrying but rather, it’s about what genes you’re expressing.
What is DNA methylation?
Simply put, methylation is the addition of a methyl group (CH3) to DNA which does not affect the DNA sequence but affects the gene expression. If you imagine that the body is a complex operating system with many switches, then methylation and demethylation are those switches. Genes can be switched on (upregulated) or switched off (downregulated). DNA methylation is one of several epigenetic mechanisms that cells use to control gene expression. And gene expression determines every single aspect of you.
Why is methylation important?
Actually, it is not important, it’s vital. Methylation occurs a billion times every second in the body, so yes it is absolutely crucial. It affects the transcription of genes, telling them to turn on or turn off. Methylation is also intricately connected with other biochemical pathways and its optimal function helps to regulate other functions such as;
- Histamine metabolism
- Fat metabolism
- Neurotransmitter production
- DNA production
- Cellular energy
- Oestrogen metabolism
- Eye and Liver health
What’s required for optimal methylation?
The process of methylation relies on the availability of methyl groups. Methyl groups are provided by the universal methyl donor known as SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine). The system that produces SAMe however, relies on a switch being turned on by a specific vitamin B, 5-MTHF (also known as active folate).
As you can see, active folate is essential for the biochemical reaction to occur. Note that folic acid is not the same as active folate and when taken from dietary sources or supplementation it must be converted to active folate first before it can be used in methylation.
What happens when there isn’t enough active folate?
Deficiency in active folate not only affects methylation causing it to function at suboptimal levels, but the same switch that triggers methylation also triggers the production of other important molecules such as;
- Coenzyme Q10
- Nitric acid
As everything is connected, one thing affecting the other, having trouble sleeping, having low energy and feeling depressed may be a result of a deficiency in active folate. However, everyone is different so it’s worth getting tested.
What can I do to optimise methylation?
There are a few things that you can do to optimise methylation. But, before we get to the steps I’d like to mention that the first thing that you need to do, which I consider very important, is a quick DNA test to check how your methylation is currently performing. There are so many places that offer this test either alone or as part of a larger more comprehensive health test. Or you can order an online kit, do the test, send it back and get your results without having to go anywhere.
Now on to the steps to help optimise methylation.
- Diet – top of the list! In addition to consuming whole non-processed foods as the basis of your diet, there are some foods that are particularly good for methylation as they are methyl donors. These include; asparagus, broccoli, avocado, brussel sprouts, legumes and dark green leafy vegetables. A green smoothie for breakfast is an excellent way to get a good amount of greens into the body. Avoid sugar, alcohol and processed foods.
- Sleep – Rest and restore! Downtime is essential for optimal function of everything in the body.
- Reduce stress – As you may be aware, stress is detrimental to our health physical, psychological and spiritual. Find out about ways that you can reduce stress in your life. Some things that could help with stress are; meditation, relaxing hot bath, walking in nature etc.
- Regular physical activity – the key word here is “regular”. It almost doesn’t matter what type of exercise you do as long as it is being done regularly.
- Elevated emotions- Be happy!! 🙂 Emotions also affect the up/down regulation of genes. So straighten out that posture, put a smile on your face and look out into the world through your rose tinted glasses.