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Methy-huh? Methylation: A Tiny Bodily Process with Huge Impact

Methy-huh? Methylation: A Tiny Bodily Process with Huge Impact

Methylation is one of the hottest topics in alternative medicine circles. If you decide to delve into this topic, you’ll quickly find yourself in a sea of complexity. Despite the intricacies, it is worth knowing something about this process, as methylation influences countless metabolic pathways in the body.

Methylation occurs in the body approximately a billion times a second. Without methylation, life quite simply would not exist. Methylation occurs when once molecule (say, a particular form of B-12 or folate) passes its methyl group to another molecule in order to exert some sort of biochemical effect. These “effects” are ubiquitous, ranging from production of creatine for muscle function and phosphatidylcholine for cell membrane stability to regulation of cellular detoxification and metabolism of neurotransmitters. Other effects include the manufacture of and breakdown of hormones and histamine and the regulation of gene expression. In short, our vitality, susceptibility to allergies, cancer and inflammation, our thyroid function, our nervous and endocrine systems, our digestive function, our ability to concentrate and remember and our mood are only a few examples of factors controlled by methylation.

Methylation is required to produce glutathione, which is one of the major molecules involved in detoxification; inefficient methylation can lead to a higher susceptibility to heavy metal toxicity and illnesses from pesticides and other environmental pollutants. Poor glutathione function may contribute to mold toxicity and lead to oxidation (rancidification) of our cellular membranes. Sounds awful? Chronic illness is skyrocketing today. Methylation defects are a likely cause.

Methylation also influences histamine breakdown in the gut. A lot of people recently have become more aware of histamine intolerance and mast cell overactivation. Most people do not realize that allergies, high levels of histamine and inflammation at their core are regulated by methylation.

Gene expression is regulated by methylation. That is, methylation controls the turning on and turning off of genes. When a methyl group binds to a gene it changes the way that gene expresses itself. This is known as DNA methylation, and it’s one of the mechanisms that cells use to control gene expression. Is cancer in your family history? Methylation issues are intimately involved.

It would be wonderful if everyone possessed stellar methylation activity, but this is not the case. The single biggest deleterious effect upon our ability to methylate is the environment. Heavy metals, medications, plastic byproducts, cleaning agents, preservatives, chemicals in our homes and oh-so-much more…all profoundly affect our ability to methylate properly. In fact, the proteins involved in methylation seems to be particularly susceptible to the effect of these toxins. As we age, we continue to accumulate toxins; hence the older we get the less we are able to effectively methylate. Of course even at birth all humans do not possess an equal ability to methylate and detoxify; methylation and detoxification are controlled by genes and some of us are born with genes that are more efficient than others are regulating these two processes. In an imaginary setting where we all accumulate an equal load of toxins, those with genes that are less efficient at detoxifying and methylating will develop symptoms at an earlier age.

How can you assess your methylation status? Performing a genetic panel can help. These panels are relatively inexpensive (they start at about $200) but can provide enormous insight into the genetic apparatus that regulates both methylation and detoxification. The information allows an informed practitioner to make decisions about how to best approach the complex health issues that physicians must address today from an very individualized perspective. For example, these tests may unveil why you have a genetic predisposition towards allergies, digestive disorders, anxiety, chronic illness or even conditions such as endometriosis. They offer the trained practitioner a roadmap to untie these very convoluted knots.

Dr. Daniel Smith practices at Bear Creek Naturopathic Clinic. His office is on 2612 Barnett Ave. He specializes in naturopathic oncology, but still maintains a strong family practice, treating all manner of conditions. He can be reached at 541-770-5563 or at If you would like to schedule an appointment, please ask specifically for Dr. Dan.


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