Methylation is the latest buzzword in the health industry, and for good reason. It’s a biochemical process involved in almost all of your body’s functions!
What is methylation? Without getting too technical, methylation is the addition of a single carbon and three hydrogen atoms (called a methyl group) to another molecule. The removal of a methyl group is called demethylation. Think of billions of little on/off switches inside your body that control everything from your stress response and how your body makes energy from food, to your brain chemistry and detoxification. That’s methylation and demethylation.
Methyl groups control:
- The stress (fight-or-flight) response
- The production and recycling of glutathione — the body’s master antioxidant
- The detoxification of hormones, chemicals and heavy metals
- The inflammation response
- Genetic expression and the repair of DNA
- Neurotransmitters and the balancing of brain chemistry
- Energy production
- The repair of cells damaged by free radicals
- The immune response, controlling T-cell production, fighting infections and viruses and regulating the immune response
If you have a shortage of methyl groups, or your methylation cycle is interrupted, any or all of these processes can become compromised, and you could get sick. Research has clearly linked impaired methylation with autoimmune conditions.
Methylation and glutathione. Improving methylation is important for everyone, but it’s especially important if you have an autoimmune condition. One of the reasons is the role of methylation in the production and recycling of glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant and master “splinter” remover. Glutathione directly neutralizes free radicals, reduces inflammation and assists in the role of other antioxidants like vitamin C, E and lipoic acid.
Glutathione contains sulfur groups, which are sticky compounds that adhere to toxins and heavy metals and carry them out of the body. This is a good thing and you want lots of it! I haven’t met anyone (including me) with any type of autoimmune condition that has adequate methylation and levels of glutathione.
In a perfect world, your body makes its own glutathione from the amino acids cysteine, glycine and glutamine, then recycles it via methylation using methyl donors like vitamin B12, folate, betaine and other nutrients. Under normal conditions, your body makes and recycles enough glutathione to handle all the toxins that you’re exposed to. However, if you have a high toxic body burden, or a part of the methylation cycle is disrupted, you can get very sick.