The Importance of Methyl Donors in the Body
The methylation cycle performs many vital roles in the body. First, by means of SAMe, it supplies methyl (CH3) groups to many different biochemical reactions. Some of them produce substances such as coenzyme Q-10 and carnitine, which have been found to be depleted in many chronic fatigue patients. Methylation also plays an important role in “silencing” certain DNA to prevent its expression, and in producing myelin for the brain and nervous system. Some key areas that methylation plays a role in are:
- Nervous System Function: When the methylation cycle is interrupted, as it is during vitamin B12 deficiency, the clinical consequence is the demyelination of nerve cells resulting in a neuropathy which may lead to loss of control of bodily functions, paralysis, and, if untreated, ultimately death. Not only can nerves not myelinate without proper methylation, but they also cannot re-myelinate after any environmental damage or viral infection. Regeneration of nerves is also disrupted due to the lack of methylation of the myelin sheath.
- Hormone Balance: Methylation regulates hormone function such as estrogen and testosterone. When one considers that high estrogen levels may lead to breast cancer whereas low testosterone levels may lead to prostate cancer, this turns out to be a critical pathway to balance rather than simply useful for mood stability.
- Allergies: Methylation also regulates histamine levels, a critical hormone often over-expressed in allergic reactions as well as in those with seasonal allergies, eczema, asthma, hives and/or anaphylactic reactions. Outcomes may range from mild symptoms of sneezing and congestion from animal dander or pollen to life-threatening and even fatal reactions from bee stings or eating simple foods such as peanuts or shellfish.
- Emotional and Mental Health: In the methylation pathway, one crucial component for neurotransmitter balance is the component, S-adenosyl methionine, or SAMe (pronounced “sammy”). SAMe is the most active methyl donor in your body, bringing methyl groups to numerous chemical compounds in your body. It also acts upon the neurotransmitters by changing them into other needed compounds. If we don’t have sufficient SAMe—or if SAMe can’t be recycled due to weaknesses in the methylation cycle, this can result in imbalances in our neurotransmitters, which in turn can impact mood, focus, sleep patterns, and a range of behaviors.
- Pain and Inflammation: DNA methylation is also involved in chronic pain. Specifically, DNA methylation of the SPARC promoter is increased with age and intervertebral disc degeneration, resulting in the silencing of a gene that is protective against accelerated disc degeneration. This can lead to chronic low back pain and inflammation. The SPARC gene is likely to be just one example of many pain-relevant genes that are similarly regulated by DNA methylation in both peripheral tissues and in the central nervous system.
How We Use SAMe
- To convert serotonin to melatonin, which supports the ability to sleep
- For glutathione synthesis, which is critical to the body’s ability to detoxify
- In the formation of many proteins, including myelin, the nerve sheaths that are so important to proper nerve firing
- In the creation of CoQ10, creatine, and carnitine, compounds essential to the work of the mitochondria, the energy factories of our cells
- To convert the neurotransmitter norepinephrine into epinephrine, (also known as adrenaline)
Methylation is also central to such critical reactions in the body as:
- Repairing and building RNA and DNA
- Immune function (how your body responds to and fights infection)
- Digestive Issues
- DNA silencing
- Neurotransmitter balance (mood stabilization)
- Toxic Metal Detoxification
- Cell Membrane fluidity and function
- Energy production
- Protein activity
- Cancer prevention
When the methylation cycle is blocked these important roles are not carried out properly. In addition, a methylation cycle block causes a block in folate metabolism, to which it is intimately linked, and this interferes with synthesis of new DNA and RNA, among other important effects and can be seen associate with birth defects and cancer.
Two of the most significant effects of a methylation cycle block are that neither the immune system nor the detox system can operate properly. If the methylation cycle remains blocked for an extended period of time, infections and toxins will build up in the body.
A simple genetic abnormality in the methylation pathway, compounded with further assaults from environmental and infectious agents, can lead to a wide range of conditions including cardiovascular disease, neurotransmitter imbalances, cancer, diabetes, abnormal immune function, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), multiple sclerosis (MS), ALS, cognitive dysfunction in patients with dementia, neurological and psychiatric disorders, Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Down syndrome, autism, neural tube defects, chronic inflammation, repeated miscarriages, atherosclerosis, arteriosclerosis, carcinogenesis, etc. have been associated with aberrant gene methylation patterns in the vascular tissue and peripheral blood cells.
Because it’s involved in so many processes, inefficient function or mutations along the methylation pathway can result in a wide range of conditions, including the following:
- Allergic reactions
- Bipolar disorder
- Bowel dysfunction
- Chronic bacterial infections
- Chronic viral infections
- Cytoskeletal breakdown Diabetes
- Down’s syndrome
- Heart disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Language and cognition impairment Leaky gut
- Metal toxicity
- Mitochondrial disease
- Neural tube defects
- Renal failure
- Rett’s syndrome
- Sleep disorders
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
- Thyroid dysfunction