What is methylation and MTHFR? Do you need to be concerned with it? Methylation has become a big topic of discussion in the functional medicine world, and it’s quite complex. There are so many mechanisms through which methylation is involved in the body, so it is important that the methylation process is happening in a balanced manner.
If you need help with methylation support, click here
What You Need to Know About Methylation and MTHFR
Methylation has become a big topic of discussion in the functional medicine world, and it’s quite complex. While you may have been advised at one point to take mega doses of methylated B vitamins, it’s helpful to understand what methylation is and if you really need these supplements long term.
Methylation is a compound composed of a carbon with three hydrogens that aids in detox, white blood cell production, DNA production and behavior, hormone regulation, neurotransmitter production, energy production, and much more.
There are so many mechanisms through which methylation is involved in the body, so it is important that the methylation process is happening in a balanced manner. You don’t want hypermethylation or hypomethylation.
In the natural-health world, folic acid has become a bad word. Folic acid is a synthetic form of natural folate, an essential B vitamin. We’ve come to believe that it’s much better to supplement with natural, methylfolate (5-MTHF) rather than folic acid. But is this true?
Folic acid supplementation has shown beneficial effects. It’s clearly documented that fortifying foods with folic acid has reduced the rate of birth defects. However, there’s much concern with taking long-term folic acid vs. folate. Excess synthetic folic acid can be toxic and can increase risk for allergies, diabetes, and insulin resistance.
Folic acid can also lead to hypermethylation and promote cancer. The same is true for natural methylfolate. If you have too much, it can create imbalanced methylation and lead to disease.
It’s important to know what your objective is when taking these supplements and have a specific time frame in mind for which to take them.
What if you have MTHFR?
The MTHFR gene instructs the body to make an enzyme necessary to convert vitamin B9 (folate) into a usable form. This enzyme is also important in the process of converting homocysteine into methionine — an amino acid the body needs for growth and metabolism. (1)
Those with a defect in the MTHFR gene may benefit from taking methylfolate. If you have this mutation, do you need to take methylfolate for the rest of your life?
It depends on the individual, their state of health, and their symptoms. There are so many other factors at play that influence methylation. Gut health, mitrochondrial behavior, and stress response all contribute to methylation. It’s not just B vitamins to consider.
You will decrease your need for methylation support when you eat a healthy diet, improve your gut health, reduce your stress, exercise, and sleep well.
Keep in mind that it’s all about balance. There are diseases that are related with hypomethylation but also hypermethylation. Too much and not enough can lead to problems.
There are compounds that have adaptogenic properties for methylation, meaning they help balance out methylation for your body, whether it’s too high or too low. Things like isoflavones and polyphenols that are found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Rosemary, curcumin, lutein, and other polyphenols will help balance methylation expression.
Unfortunately, the data on MTHFR genetic mutation is mixed and conflicting. There’s not clear cut clinical evidence that suggests mega dose B vitamins is a valid treatment protocol for specific conditions.
Diet and lifestyle are the first places to start in healing the body and supporting methylation. Lifestyle is critical. Stress in the body is passed on generationally. Both a mother and father’s stress level affect fetus development and impact the health of an unborn child. Disordered sleep can augment the expression of genes as well.
What is the best diet for methylation support?
Consume a diet rich in methyl donors. The body can then decide how best to use these nutrients. A paleo-style protocol is a good place to start – lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, low sugar, higher fat, and adequate protein. Also include an abundance of methylation adaptogens such as cinnamon, dark chocolate, blueberries, and green tea. Even coffee and red wine are high in polyphenols!
If you’re interested in specific testing to uncover the root issues of your health concerns and determine if methylation is an issue, here are some testing recommendations to consider:
- General blood work up – CBC, metabolic panel
- Homocysteine – good methylation marker
- Organic acids test
- Food sensitivity testing
- Stool testing
To discover more about the role of methylation, check out our podcast with Dr. Kara Fitzgerald here.
If you need help with methylation support, click here
What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.
Dr. Ruscio is your leading functional and integrative doctor specializing in gut related disorders such as SIBO, leaky gut, Celiac, IBS and in thyroid disorders such as hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. For more information on how to become a patient, please contact our office. Serving the San Francisco bay area and distance patients via phone and Skype.