This is the third article in a blog series about methylation. To read the introduction and first article in the series that covers methylation and key nutrients click here. To read the second article about genetic mutations that affect methylation, click here.
Now that you know the basics about what methylation is, why it is important, and how it can be disrupted, I’d like to cover everyone’s favorite topic — how one can best support optimal methylation!
A quick note
Although the genetic mutations that affect methylation (such as MTHFR) get a lot of attention, it is important to note that just because a person has a genetic mutation does not necessarily mean their methylation will be impaired. In addition, people can suffer from methylation issues unrelated to genetics (go back and read my list in the first article of the series to see some alternate causes of methylation dysfunction).
Because methylation is so essential to life, and because our environmental exposure to toxins is so much more than it used to be, I believe optimizing methylation is important to everyone (even those without chronic illness or autoimmune disease). This doesn’t mean everyone needs to be on a complicated supplement regimen, which I’ll talk about at the end of the article — but there are certainly things everyone can be doing to support this imperative process.
7 steps everyone can take to support methylation:
- Avoid folic acid—limit eating foods and supplements that contain this synthetic nutrient (see this article for the difference between folic acid and folate)
- Eat raw leafy greens daily—these provide your body with the folate necessary to support methylation
- Support digestion—troubleshooting digestive issues that could be causing malabsorption of nutrients needed for methylation (most specifically low stomach acid and vitamin B12)
- Sweat—make sure that you get some activity that enables you to sweat at least a couple times a week (a sauna is a great option for those who cannot tolerate exercise)
- Eat high-quality meat and produce—do your best to eat grass-fed, free-range and hormone-free meat, wild-caught fish, and organic produce (if you can’t afford it use EWG’s “dirty dozen” list to inform purchases)
- Avoid exposure to environmental toxins—this means looking into water filtration, household cleaning products, personal care products, avoiding plastics and BPA, and any other chemical or toxin exposure.
- Manage your stress—try introducing some activities in your day that are restorative and stress-relieving, like yoga, meditation, or anything that helps your body and mind relax
Looking at the above list, you may be thinking, “Hey, I already try to do all that stuff!” Pat yourself on the back!
One of the reasons why I think AIP works for so many people, is that it is naturally supportive of optimal methylation. The Autoimmune Protocol already eliminates processed foods that are a usual source of folic acid, so as long as a person is checking their supplements carefully (as well as eating raw leafy greens) they should be easily meeting the nutritional requirements for methylation. Adding some lifestyle changes like getting some movement, limiting exposure to toxins, and managing our stress are things most of us already know keep us feeling great, so no news there!
What if the above isn’t enough?
Supporting methylation with diet and lifestyle is effective, but not enough for some people. For these folks, there may be an underlying factor why methylation is disrupted that is not easily remedied. Some people need nutritional support for specific pathways of the methylation cycle, and can make a lot of progress with supplementation.
If you believe you are hitting a roadblock because your methylation is not optimal, this is a great time to find a skilled practitioner to work with. I don’t recommend navigating this territory on your own — I personally tried this myself for my compound heterozygous mutation, and caused myself a lot of unnecessary symptoms and trouble by supplementing too aggressively.
How do I find a practitioner who can help me?
There are many medical doctors, naturopaths, and other practitioners advertising themselves as methylation experts online. I recommend finding someone trained by Dr. Ben Lynch (you can find a link to trained practitioners here) as I believe his approach to be well-informed and sensible. At his seminars, he teaches practitioners to start with lifestyle and diet changes first before moving on to cautious supplementation.
I would caution anyone looking for a doctor to make sure to work with someone who does thorough lab testing to assess methylation. Some functional tests they might order might be nutrient panels, urine organic acids test as well as urine amino acids profiles. If a practitioner wants to put you on a protocol looking at genetic information alone, this is a huge red flag.
I would also encourage folks to work with a practitioner who has a gradual and cautious approach. Over-supplementation for those who are not in need has the risk of setting off imbalances in methylation, which can produce the unpleasant side effects that I experienced. A lot of people just need to dial in the dietary and lifestyle recommendations up above.
I hope this series has you feeling better informed about methylation, and encouraged that by eating real food, moving your body, managing your stress, and avoiding environmental toxins you are also supporting this process that is absolutely necessary and essential for health!
You mention your unpleasant side effects from methylation treatment, what were they? You probably explained them in a previous article, but it’s been awhile since I combed through those!
I got crazy itchy, my histamine intolerance became worse, I was very irritable, and had insomnia. Not fun!
Have not been successful in finding a practitioner knowledgeable on MTHFR mutations. (I am homozygous c677t.) Any suggestions would be appreciated!!! Thank you!!
I would check out Dr. Lynch’s resources here: https://mthfr.net/mthfr-resources/
Thank you for the informative blog posts Mickey! Does this information apply for both under and over methylation?
These suggestions are things everyone can be doing to support optimal methylation. If you are over methylating due to too many/the wrong combination of supplements, you will want to talk to your practitioner about cutting those out to bring things back into balance.
I have two heterozygous methylation mutations. My doctor put me on L-methyl-folate to bring down my high homocysteine level. It’s effective for that purpose. She insists that this is the only way to effectively deal with this genetic mutation, and says it cannot be resolved only with food and non-supplement-based treatments.
Beyond the lifestyle recommendations you mention above, are you able to do without some form of folate (other than from food itself)? If so, what works for you? If not, how do you explain it? Thanks! I just discovered this site and I love it!
Hi Mickey, love your site. I’m a Hashimoto’s patient and am constantly told to not eat too many raw leafy greens due to the fact that they may inhibit iodine uptake. But now with the methylation issue it is suggested to have lots of raw leafy greens! Wondering how you tackled this – if all in moderation/balance is ok, or if one is better avoided than the other. Thanks!
Hi Sandy! I am very pro-leafy greens even for us Hashi’s folks–you may find this article interesting! https://autoimmune-paleo.com/goitrogens-why-you-dont-need-to-avoid-them/
I left a question on 10/8/2015 and I’m still curious to hear your answer. I’m simply interested in knowing whether you personally are able to manage your methylation mutations entirely through food and natural supportive measures, without need for any kind of folate supplementation. I understand you’re not advocating any particular treatment or giving medical advice, just providing educational information.
Hi Rita! I manage with occasional supplementation. I definitely don’t supplement every day and go by how I feel. Sorry it took awhile to respond to your earlier comment, I’ve been really busy!
Thank you, Mickey for these article! Extremely helpful! I was diagnosed with the A1298c mutation back in the Spring and my primary dr immediately put me on methyl folate and a methyl b12 that was too high of a dosage and I experienced migraine headaches, irritability, insomnia and anxiety attacks! It was awful! I took myself off and started taking a much lower dosage with some niacin and felt better. I finally found a dr locally who understands MTHFR and found him through Dr. Lynch’s site! I’m now hopeful I can get the help I need! Thanks again for referencing Dr. Lynch’s site and for bringing awareness!
Hi Amy! I’m so sorry to hear of the side effects you experienced after over-supplementation, it is very common! I’m so happy you found a good doc and are getting the treatment you need. Wishing you the best!
I am really interested in any info on MTHFR
Hi Karis, let me know if there were any questions unanswered in this article!
[…] MTHFR Mutation […]
Thank you for the articles.
You had mentioned that someone should be tested first if the mutations are expressed or not. What would the tests be?
Hi Alina! I don’t have a simple answer for you, but this would best be assessed by a savvy doctor (I would check out Dr. Lynch’s recommendations on MTHFR.net). Most use the urine organic acids test to tell this, but there are a great many tests that can show methylation dysfunction.