You know the mornings after those nights? Whether it’s too many trips to the canapé tray at a party, three too many martinis on a date, or a late-in-the-evening espresso that kept you wide awake, tossing and turning in your sheets. Turns out, a certain health factor—they you may have never heard of until now—might be at play: methylation.
It’s mornings like those that you might turn to more well-known methods of detoxification. A good old-fashioned sweat sesh. Stocking up for a soup cleanse or going all in on dark leafy greens. Activated charcoal and digestive enzymes. Booking a rezzie with a red light sauna. Putting a little chlorophyll in your H2O. Barricading your bar cart.
What if I told you there’s a whole lot more to detoxing your body than finally quitting your cereal-after-dinner addiction? Enter: methylation.
Featured image by Michelle Nash.
Methylation is a process happening at the cellular level in your body that could be the key to unlocking your healthiest self. Defined by Mind Body Green, methylation is “a biochemical process in the body that helps regulate the activity of our cardiovascular, neurological, reproductive, and detox systems.” Never heard of it? Neither had I until last year when a friend and registered dietitian Lauren Hurst brought it up over carrot juice and conversation.
She suggested an alternative approach to my reactive course-correcting. After I had my blood drawn, Lauren helped me get to the bottom of why I was so unbearably tired during the day (and wired at night). After a slew of tests, she learned that my detoxification pathways could use a little tuning up.
I sat down with Lauren to get the scoop on all things methylation. Let’s dive in and start feeling better, together.
What is methylation?
Methylation is one of the most critically important biochemical processes in the body for health and well-being. Methylation is simply taking a methyl group (a structure of one carbon and three hydrogen molecules) and transferring this group to various compounds in the body. These compounds can be proteins, DNA, hormones, toxins, neurotransmitters, and more. All of these compounds must be methylated in order to function optimally or to create other substances in the body.
An analogy I often give my patients to explain methylation is to have them think of their body as having light switches. If we want to turn a light switch on in the body (for example, have the body produce “feel good” neurotransmitters), then we need a methyl group to flip the switch on.
Methylation is involved in over 200 different processes in the body. We need proper methylation for:
- energy production
- DNA production and repair
- immune response
- liver detoxification
- brain chemistry
- controlling inflammation
- hormone production and metabolism
As you can see, methylation directly impacts our cardiovascular, neurological, and reproductive health, energy production, detoxification pathways, and more.
What are symptoms of poor methylation?
Disrupted or poor methylation in the body can have far-reaching effects since it affects so many processes in your body. We see a wide range of problems when methylation is compromised. Some of the more common symptoms we see related to poor methylation are:
- impaired cognitive function
- sleep disturbances
- cardiovascular disease
In women, specifically, we also see PMS, irregular cycles, endometriosis, fibroids, and unexplained infertility.
The interference with our neurotransmitters can contribute to poor mood and difficulty sleeping while the inability to properly detoxify and excrete toxins tends to drive inflammation in the body. This then affects skin, gut, musculoskeletal, and reproductive health.
What nutrients support methylation?
Nutrition plays the largest role when it comes to supporting your methylation pathways. Methylation requires a variety of nutrients in the diet to work properly. These include folic acid, B12, B6, choline, betaine, zinc, and magnesium, which can all be found in supplement form.
How can we increase these nutrients in our diet?
Folate. Dark leafy green vegetables, lentils, liver, oat brain, asparagus, avocado, beets, citrus, legumes, nuts, and seeds
Vitamin B12. Meats and meat products, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs. For vegetarians, you can get B12 through sea vegetables and nutritional yeast.
Riboflavin. Organ meats, dairy, eggs, fortified cereals, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms, almonds, and green vegetables.
Vitamin B6. Meats, whole grains, seeds, legumes, and prunes.
Choline. Meat, fish, eggs, legumes, cruciferous vegetables, and shiitake mushrooms.
Betaine. Quinoa, beets, spinach, sweet potatoes, and meats.
Zinc. Meat, shellfish, seeds, legumes, nuts, and dark chocolate.
Magnesium. Green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, oatmeal, peas, figs, okra
Can lifestyle choices impact methylation?
In addition to regularly consuming nutrient-rich foods, prioritize high-quality sleep and stress reduction. Studies have shown that physical activity can also help promote detoxification pathways and support methylation.
Alcohol and caffeine should be reduced or consumed in moderation. These substances tend to steal methyl donors and mess with the pathways. Moderation is key!
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