What is methylation?
If your methylation cycle is out of balance, it can have a significant impact on many aspects of female health including hormone balance, mood, energy levels, the menstrual cycle and fertility.
But it can often be over looked when trying to find the cause of many health issues or symptoms.
Methylation is a complex process that occurs within cells of the human body that is necessary for the body to function.
Essentially methylation is where a molecule called a ‘methyl group’ is transferred between different things in the body (e.g. our DNA, genes or proteins), so the substance or compound receiving the methyl group can work.
The methylation cycle basically allows us to function mentally, physically and emotionally so it’s pretty important! This includes the proper functioning of our nervous, cardiovascular and immune systems, as well as energy production, heavy metal detoxification, and hormone balance.
When it is out of balance it can cause or contribute to many different health
problems, including behavioural and cognitive and mood disorders, oestrogen imbalance, menstrual irregularities, fertility, chemical and food sensitivities, allergies, infertility, hypothyroidism and chronic fatigue syndrome, to name a few.
What does methylation have to do with hormone balance?
Methylation is one of the ways the body metabolises (processes) oestrogen in the liver. If this pathway isn’t working properly it can lead to a build-up of oestrogen in the body, causing a whole host of issues including those specified above, as well as endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, heavy menstruation and irregular menstruation.
And what about fertility?
Another important area that methylation is connected to is DNA. Our DNA, also known as our genes, is like a hard drive that make us who we are, and you are stuck with the DNA you were born with.
Epigenetics refers to chemical processes that influence how our genes work (turning them on and off). Methylation is one such epigenetic process.
Many women (and men) in the population have a mutation (or error) in part of the DNA associated with methylation. One that has been the topic of much research is the MTHFR gene.
Defects in this gene can contribute to a range of issues, including fertility issues (e.g. relating to implantation, embryo quality, recurrent miscarriage). (IMPORTANT: this won’t be the case in everyone who has defects in MTHFR gene – it is essential to consider more than just a genetic error. The whole patient and clinical picture needs to be taken into account).
So what can be done about issues with methylation?
This is not an area where self-diagnosis is recommended! There are a number of factors known to influence methylation, including drugs, heavy metals, pollution, radiation, inflammation, oxidative stress, ageing and nutrition.
So a detailed review of all of these factors in the individual is important. The status of different methylation pathway markers can also be investigated via functional pathology and genetic testing.
Minimising exposure to lifestyle and environmental factors known to adversely affect it and using specific nutritional interventions are important factors to support healthy methylation.