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BackWhat is Methylation?

Methylation is the chemical process in which a methyl group - one carbon atom and 3 hydrogen atoms - becomes attached to other molecules. According to a number of factors including genetic variations, ethnicity and age, there is a 10-44% chance that you posses a genetic variation of a key enzyme that results in abnormal methylation in your body.  This basic chemical process is a key part of several important biological processes including:

  • The filtering and removal of heavy metals, hormone by-products and a nubmer of other toxins by the liver.
  • The creation of key neurotransmitters such as serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, adrenaline and more from various amino acids.
  • The proper formation of DNA
  • Eradication of Homocysteine, a toxic metabolite which damages and cracks artery walls.

Needless to say, improper methylation can have far-reaching and profound effects.  Homocysteine is the marker of poor methylation (see below). Elevated homocysteine levels are an independent risk factor for many problems in the body.

Detecting Methylation Abnormalities

You can test for methylation abnormalities by measuring the level of homocysteine in your blood.  Homocysteine forms when you eat methionine, and amino acid normally found in protein foods like red mean and poultry.  It is a toxic by product of the absorption of this amino acid usually easily neutralized by the methylation process.  If an individual's methylation is abnormal, due usually to a genetic variation/defect, the body will not properly eradicate the homocysteine and it will exist in detectable levels in the blood.  Our recommended optimal range is 0-7.5.

A fasting blood test may not give the most accurate reading however, because it has simply been a while since you ate any methionine (from protein-rich foods).  A better measure is a methionine challenge test, where they feed it to you and draw your blood 3-4 hours later.  This method will correctly identify patients with methylation problems up to 27% more often.

The enzyme MTHFR helps you convert homocysteine to methionine.  Common variations in the gene that codes for this enzyme lie at the heart of most methylation problems.  The most common defective variation is the MTHRF 677 C-->T polymorphism. Up to 44% of caucasion and asian populations have at least one copy of this gene.

References

1. Castelli W. P. 1996. Lipids, risk factors and ischemic heart disease. Atherosclerosis. Jul; 124 (Suppl): S1-9.

2. Stampfer M. J. 1992. A prospective stody of plasma homocysteine and risk of myocardial infarction in US physicians. JAMA. Aug 19;268(7): 877-881.

3. Clarke et al. 1998. Folate, vitamin B12, and serum total homocysteine levels in confirmed Alzheimer disease. Arch Nerol. Nov;55(11): 14449-1455.