What is methylation?
The first time I heard the term methylation was in 2013. Dr. Jeff Bland and Dr. Bridget Briggs introduced it in an educational course I purchased. The information they covered set my world on fire. I was already seeing patients with chronic and mystery illness, and I concluded this must be the missing piece to healing.
Simply put, methylation is breaking down and converting substances. It does so by taking a single carbon and three hydrogens, known as a methyl group, and applying it to countless metabolic reactions in your body. If we are breathing, we are methylating.
When methylation is going well, the process helps repair your DNA, turns genes on or off, allows for protein synthesis, regulates hormones, produces energy, protects against cancer, supports detoxification, keeps your immune system healthy, produces and regulates neurotransmitters, supports the protective coating along your nerves, strengthens the nervous system…..pretty essential stuff.
What the Drs presented was that if people inherited a faulty gene, and the gene regulates so many fundamental processes in the body, that their faulty genes is what made people sick.
Excited that I’d found the magic wand to health, I obtained my own comprehensive genetic profile as well as that of my patients. Low and behold, my results indicated I had “faulty MTHFR genes” and nearly all of my patients tested positive for one or more MTHFR gene variants as well.
I studied everything I could from Dr. Amy Yasko. And then the work of Dr Ben Lynch. And the plot thickened. Not only was the MTHFR gene being blamed for health conditions, other genes like CBS were also blamed.
I studied every Friday with a couple IFM colleagues and we discussed all of the metabolic pathways, and how methylation and related pathways resulted in various symptoms and conditions. We really thought we had it nailed down.
But you know what? Despite all this knowledge, and the nutritional support of these weak genetic pathways with the “right” supplements, in the right forms, people didn’t get better. Yup. They spent a lot of money. They took their P5P, or their theoretical magic nutrient, but they didn’t feel any better. And sometimes they even felt worse!
It took awhile to see that this was a rabbit hole, AND, it was a dead end rabbit hole in my opinion. I was getting better results for my patients when we “just” focused on diet and lifestyle changes like I had in the old days.
Yes, there are a couple supplements that really are game-changers, but the craziness of trying to manipulate specific metabolic pathways in the human body was not paying off!
What is epigenetics?
So now, let’s define EPIGENETICS. It is simply that the genes we inherit are affected by our diet, lifestyle choices, toxin exposures, stress, pathogens, sleep, and other lifestyle choices. Shazam. THIS is stuff we can manipulate.
EX: Despite what genes I inherited, I can choose to eat a whole foods plant based diet. And those foods – rich with their phytochemicals – send certain signals to my body.
On the contrary, if I were to eat at McDonalds every day, that behavior would also send certain signals to the body.
I hope you see that it’s our lifestyle choices that have the impact on our health, and the genetics are secondary. A nutrient-rich, whole foods, plant based diet will prevent premature aging and induce a healthy life. A diet loaded in processed foods will facilitate premature aging and health problems. Get it?
“We all have genes,
and the messages we send to them is what really matters.”
Methyation 101 Summary:
We can’t change the genes we inherit. And if you’ve been told you inherited faulty genes, take heart. It’s easier and more effective to support our genes with a healthy diet and smart lifestyle choices (IE, epigenetics discussed above).
Below are some strategies to help you improve DNA methylation.
Methylation Do’s and Don’ts
- DO take a methylated form of B12 and a methylated form of folate. Johny and I take Vegan Safe B12 sublingually every morning and we take Methyl Folate in a capsule. You can find it – and other supplements we rely on – here
- DO eat a whole foods, organic, plant-based diet with plenty of fresh or frozen fruits & veggies in their natural state including 5-8 oz of organic leafy greens a day (parsley, cilantro, spinach, romaine, kale, butterleaf lettuce, red leaf and green leaf lettuce, arugula, mache)
- DO reduce exposures to toxins, heavy metals, and solvents through lifestyle changes. You might want to read up on How Toxins Affect Your Health. Learn about safe personal care products (toothpaste, lotions, shampoo, conditioner, makeup, perfume….). I did a Facebook Live and you can view the recording on my website. And let’s not forget to use safe cleaning products & laundry detergents. And last, be sure you have a high quality water filter. We use a Berkey.
- DO get 7-9 hours of restorative sleep. Easier said than done if you are struggling with your health, but you might need to power down your devices an hour or two before bed. If you have good health, it’s ideal to go to bed without a late-night snack so your body can do repair work without the bother of digesting more food. But I find that a lot of my patients need to eat a light fruit snack or a tsp or two of raw honey to nourish glucose stores for ideal sleep. Other helpful tips include taking a bath with calming essential oils like lavender, getting in bed and saying your prayers prayers, doing some belly-breathing exercises. There are also supplements that can aid in sleep while you heal, so consider a “one-off Ask Tracy session“.
- Manage stress, and this isn’t optional. It isn’t the events in life so much as our THOUGHTS around them that signals stress-responses in our body. Learn how to break down those thoughts and assumptions we make, often on bad info! This alone could be a blog and it’s something I try to help my Nutrition Foundations Program students work through on our group calls.
- Engage in movement or exercise. Rebounding is the optimal way to move as it strengthens core muscles and moves the lymph fluid. If you aren’t strong enough to do a big workout, just bounce lightly. You’ll still benefit.
- Implement therapies that support and facilitate the liver and detoxification pathways. A lot of methylation happens in the liver, and if the liver is tired and overwhelmed, methylation is compromised. I’ve done an entire hour-long training on this so it’s easiest for me to refer you to my Liver Health eCourse.
- Don’t let your head get caught up in the blame game and that you can’t heal because you have faulty genes. Don’t claim it. Our genes have not changed that much in the past 3 generations but our diets and lifestyle choices have. Processed food is NOT our friend and it is directly contributing to the process of chronic disease. If you are sick or struggling, please know it’s not your genes! You really truly might have trouble methylating. But remember that you need to give your body the right tools so it can perform this essential function.
- Don’t eat foods that make matters worse.
- Gluten for sure and being grain free has huge benefits when you are in a crisis state. This includes corn.
- Junk oils – organic or not, canola is a junk oil. And yet it’s cheap and the marketing team has done a lot of PR to sway the vote. Don’t listen to them and avoid canola oil, even organic, at all costs.
- MSG, artificial flavors, artificial colors….
- Processed foods
- Go easy on hard to digest foods (animal foods, legumes, fat) as this takes needed bandwidth away from other essential jobs. Read more here about The Healthiest Diet.
- Don’t eat a lot of fat even if it is plant based. Your liver needs time to do some internal housecleaning and to heal. The liver has ~ 2000 jobs so he is BUSY! Our livers clean our blood and when the liver filters are full, dirty blood goes out into circulation. Symptoms and conditions of an overwhelmed liver include skin rashes, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, dysglycemia, varicose veins, dark circles under the eyes, weight imbalances…
- I said this above, but don’t expose yourself to toxin after toxin.
- Eat more organic foods, especially those that are highly sprayed
- Learn about safe and clean personal care products
- Research carpets, paints, and home building materials before you build or remodel
In summary, eating a whole food nutrient-rich plant-based diet pays in spades. These color-rich foods are loaded with anti-oxidants that slow down the aging process, and speed up the healing process. If you are afraid of fruit and the “sugar” remember that a banana and chocolate cake are hardly the same thing. You can read 20 Reasons to Eat More Fruit here.