Methylation is a process which you may or may not have heard about. It is the act of donating a methyl group from one compound to another compound, altering the chemical structure and changing it into something else. This process is happening in all of our bodies, all of the time.
In order for methylation to occur, enzymes are involved – these are known as methyltransferase enzymes.
Functions of methylation include:
- Gene regulating: turning genes on and off
- Processing hormones e.g. oestrogen
- Producing neurotransmitters i.e. serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, adrenaline and noradrenaline
- Detoxification of chemicals and toxins
- Building of immune cells e.g. T helper cells and natural killer (NK) cells
- Regulating inflammation
- Antioxidant production; mitigating oxidative stress
- Energy production (ATP)
- DNA and RNA synthesis and repair
- Producing protective coatings on our nerves (myelination) and repairing cell membranes
Consequences of disrupted methylation processes are common and include:
- Energy production/mitochondrial dysfunction
- Cardiovascular disease
- Mood and psychiatric disorders
- Cognition changes
- Thyroid disorders
- Detoxification impairment
- Lowered immunity
We must methylate properly to support our mood, mental health, cardiovascular health, fertility and more. B vitamins are heavily involved in the methylation process, especially folate (vitamin B9) and vitamin B12.
Synthetic forms of these nutrients such as folic acid found in fortified foods and supplements can hinder the methylation process, and result in a build up of unmetabolised folic acid, which can cause problems. Instead of taking synthetic folic acid, we want the activated forms of these nutrients such as folinic acid and methylfolate.
This is particularly important with prenatal and pregnancy supplements – check yours out. Does it contain folic acid? If it does, this is synthetic and your body may not be metabolising and utilising it appropriately. Chat to your healthcare professional about choosing an activated form of folate to support your health.