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!