Methyl Cycle a Source of Chronic Illness

Posted by on Oct 18, 2013

Methyl Cycle a Source of Chronic Illness

I attended a conference earlier this month on methylation and nutrigenomics. The term nutrigenomics means the use of diet and supplements to treat genetically induced or inherited problems. Methylation is a growing field that I will explain in more detail below.

What is methylation?

It’s a chemical reaction that occurs in every cell of your body. During methylation, a methyl group consisting of one carbon and three hydrogen atoms is added to a molecule. Methyl groups are chemically inactive, so adding them to a protein changes the function of the protein. Enzymes are proteins that control chemical reactions in the body. They can become more or less active when they are methylated.

Likewise, our genes are coated with proteins called histones. Methylation of our chromosomes can turn genes on or off. Turning off defective genes can be beneficial for your health as can turning on genes that code for healthful traits.

How are genetic tests involved?

A genetic test can be done to find out what genes you were born with that control methylation and the methyl cycle. A common genetic defect involves the MTHFR gene. Approximately half of the population has inherited one or more defective MTHFR genes. Defects in this gene can lead to a host of chronic illnesses. Heart disease, stroke, dementia, depression, migraines, cancer and many other problems are more likely to occur in people with a defect in this gene. Allergies are linked to yet another gene that governs the methyl cycle.

How can neutrigenomics help?

Scientists in this rapidly growing field are looking at how diet and dietary supplements can help overcome common genetic defects. Encouraging or avoiding certain foods may provide a way around defective methyl cycle genes to help improve a variety of chronic disorders and restore lasting good health. Certain vitamins, minerals or herbs can serve as cofactors to speed beneficial chemical reactions as well. In addition, dealing with insufficient physical activity, too much stress, or excess exposure to environmental toxins can help improve methyl cycle gene functioning.

I think it’s exciting that we’re deepening and broadening our understanding of the biochemistry of what makes us healthy or well. I’ll keep you posted after I attend an advanced neutrigenomics course early next year.

This post is written by Elizabeth S. Smoots, MD. Dr. Smoots’ blog is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Before adhering to any recommendations in this blog consult your healthcare provider. ©2012 Elizabeth S. Smoots, MD, LLC.
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