DNA methylation is one of the most crucial processes taking place in your body right now, yet it’s also one you might know very little about. Until fairly recently, we’re learning just what this process has to do with aging and how we might be able to harness it to fight back against all the diseases and disorders we normally associate with getting old.
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In this article:
- Methylation Is a Chemical Process
- This Process Is Like a Series of Switches
- Balance Is Crucially Important in the Process
- Methylation May Be More Important Than Genetics
- All Kinds of Things Can Affect Methylation and Gene Expression
Why Is DNA Methylation Important? 5 Things to Know
1. Methylation Is a Chemical Process
Methylation Definition: Happens when a single atom of carbon and three atoms of hydrogen attach themselves to a given molecule
The single-carbon and three-atom grouping is known as a methyl group. Attaching is called methylation; when the group un-attaches, we call this demethylation.
2. This Process Is Like a Series of Switches
There’s always something going on in your body, even when you seem to be at rest.
At every moment of the day and night, cells are dividing and regenerating, things are growing while others things are shrinking, messages are being sent from the brain to the tissues, and back again, hormones are being produced, and waste is being carried away from the cells while nutrients are carried to them.
Controlling all this is pretty complicated, and DNA methylation is essentially a series of little on/off switches that control all these processes. Here are a few of the processes that happen (or stop happening) as methylation and demethylation take place, either normally or abnormally:
- Your body detoxifies from heavy metals and chemicals or excess hormones (or fails to do so).
- Inflammation rises and falls.
- Neurotransmitters in the brain balance (or unbalance) your brain chemistry.
- Your body produces and recycles its own antioxidant, glutathione (or fails to do so).
- The fight-or-flight response triggers on or off.
- Genes express (or stop expressing).
- DNA is repaired (or multiplies errors).
- Cell damage from free radicals is fixed (or goes on).
- Your immune system ramps up the production of T-cells to fight infection (or fails to do so when necessary).
T-cells Definition: Lymphocytes or types of white blood cell that fight off infection-causing foreign bodies
3. Balance Is Crucially Important in the Process
Remember those sayings your grandmother used to throw out? Sayings like: Just because some is good doesn’t mean more is better?
They apply to methylation. We need just the right cycle of methylation to stay in the peak of health.
Here are just a few examples:
DNA hypo-methylation—when the body does too much of a good thing—is strongly associated with cancer. But the same is true of hyper-methylation, where the body doesn’t do enough methylation.
Both are a genetic abnormality, and both can lead to cancer by activating or deactivating a key gene.
When you have too little methylation going on, this is usually because you have low levels of SAM-e. This is a natural metabolite of methionine: in other words, it causes methylation to happen.
SAM-e Definition: A natural molecule in the body involved in the activation, formation, and breakdown of hormones, lipids, and proteins
The problem with having too little SAM-e is that your body stops making enough serotonin, the happy hormone which gives you a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. Depression is a possible serious consequence of this lack.
Unfortunately, having too much methyl has the opposite effect. In this case, you get too much serotonin and dopamine, and this causes you to lose motivation and even experience confusion.
Your libido can tank, and you can also start packing on the weight.
Impaired methylation is very clearly linked with autoimmune disorders. When methylation isn’t working correctly, certain genes fail to activate, specifically some maintenance genes that allow our immune systems to function normally.
4. Methylation May Be More Important Than Genetics
Your genes contain the codes that control everything about you, from the color of your eyes to the way you metabolize carbohydrates to the way your skin responds to the sun. But just because the code exists in your system doesn’t mean it will do anything.
Genes express, or send out instructions telling cells to do things, only under certain circumstances. It’s DNA methylation that controls whether those codes go out.
What does this mean?
- Well, first, it means that genetic testing can only tell you about risk. You need epigenetic testing, which in part measures your methylation, to understand whether dangerous genes are expressing or not.
- It also means that we need to work on controlling which genetic codes are expressed and which are not to stop aging and disease. The good news is that our lifestyle, diets, and supplement habits have a lot to do with our methylation.
5. All Kinds of Things Can Affect Methylation and Gene Expression
We all know that our parents pass on their DNA to us, but did you also know that the way our parents live, even before we are born, can affect our gene expression? A study done of pregnant mothers in Gambia found that a mother’s nutritional habits while pregnant can cause epigenetic changes in the fetus, changing the way methyl groups turned on or off certain genes.
Smoking, for example, interrupts the methylation cycle because carbon monoxide inactivates vitamin B6, a key nutrient that supports healthy methylation. A recent study done on those with a genetic disposition to develop diabetes, including identical twins, found that exercise modified the methylation pattern in the metabolism, stopping the expression of those genes that promoted diabetes.
Diet is closely linked with DNA methylation. We need folate, zinc, magnesium, and B vitamins, in particular, to keep our methylation cycle healthy. This means choosing healthy greens, eggs, nuts, probiotics, clean proteins, and foods high in antioxidants over-processed, sugary foods lacking in nutrition can make an enormous difference in our body’s ability to properly regulate methyl cycles.
Methylation Is the Key to Healthy Aging
Healthy methylation is key to every function of the body, and when things go wrong, aging, disorder, and disease are the result. As we learn how to manage methylation, we learn more about how to put a stop to these processes. For more on epigenetics and how to turn back the clock, visit Tru Diagnostics today.
Which features or habits of your parents did you adapt? Which ones did you not? Let’s talk about the science of those in the comments below!