This is week four of my 10-week series, 10 Barriers to Recovery From Lyme Disease. The topic today is methylation.
Methylation refers to the process of adding a methyl group to many chemical compounds in the body. The process of methylation influences biochemical pathways in the body that regulate many different functions and processes, among them detoxification, neurotransmitter production and immune function. The DNA needs methyl groups to create healthy RNA, which creates healthy proteins, tissues, and cells.
Some people have genetic defects in their methylation pathways, which can impact the entire body. About 50% of the population appear to have genetic variants of the MTHFR gene causing them to have some difficulty resynthesizing methionine from homocysteine. That’s fancy science-speak for “their methylation pathways are screwed up”. Now don’t panic, while genetics might lay down a predisposition, methylation defects can be corrected using the correct supplementation and lifestyle choices. This is called ‘epigenetics’ – ‘epi’ meaning on, or above. This goes above and beyond the basic genetic structure to how we can influence transcription to our body tissues.
There is testing that can be done to see if you have defects in your methylation pathways. Large labs such as Labcorp and Quest will test the MTHFR genes to see if there are defects there. They report as negative, heterozygous (just one copy of the gene is mutated) or homozygous (both copies of the gene shows mutations). Remember, we have two copies of all our genes, one from our mum and one from our dad. A patient with homozygous mutations may have a greater susceptibility to chronic illness, where a heterozygous mutation is a milder version.
Some private labs, as well as 23&Me, do more extensive testing for different SNP’s, looking much more in depth at the genetic make up of an individual. There are also some online services that provide interpretation of such reports. However, be warned – it’s a lot of information and quite confusing to wade through.
Methylation is an emerging area in medicine – it’s very important, and at the same time can be quite complex and confusing. But there are ways to simplify it and take a sensible approach. If there are any genetic defects showing on the lab testing, one can supplement with “methylated” B vitamins such as methyl-folate and methyl-B12. This can provide the body with more of the methyl-groups needed to methylate the DNA and support healthier transcription. This can switch on detox, enable immune cells to function better, and increase the flow of healthy neurotransmitters, reducing depression and anxiety.
Patients who have Lyme frequently have issues with methylation. This can be a hindrance to therapy as detoxification is compromised and any amount of antimicrobial therapy, no matter how minuscule, will make them very ill. Working on supporting methylation and getting those pathways functional again can pave the way for much more successful treatment.