Even though methylation is a hot topic in the world of medicine right now, most of the conversation revolves around undermethylation.
If your attention perked up when you saw that today's blog is about overmethylation, I’m guessing you’re already a bit familiar with MTHFR mutations and some basic concepts of methylation. Perhaps you're even taking folic acid or niacin to support your genetic mutations. Maybe you suspect that you've become overmethylated in the process, which is actually pretty common in people who are working to correct an undermethylation problem.
But if that all sounds foreign to you, then here's a quick recap.
Brief Recap – What is Methylation?
Methylation is a biochemical process that's actually used throughout your body. Simply put, methylation is when one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms are added to a molecule. One carbon plus three hydrogen atoms is called a methyl group, which is why this process is called methylation.
Methyl groups can be thought of as little light switches for very important processes, including:
- Stress response
- Flight or flight reactions
- Synthesis of neurotransmitters
- Synthesis of glutathione (your body's master antioxidant)
- Folate metabolis
- Hormone regulation
- Energy production
- DNA repair
- Gene expression
- Scavenging free radicals
- Supporting appropriate immune system response
Methyl groups turn on many of these processes and if you don’t have enough of them, it can cause a lot of health problems. For example, maybe you have plenty of a neurotransmitter, but you don’t have enough methyl groups to activate it – then it might not be doing you any good.
You're probably thinking, methylation sounds great and in most cases it is. Which is why there was a flare of concern when scientists discovered MTHFR gene mutations that can cause people to not produce enough methyl groups.
Having a shortage of methyl groups is a big deal because it can cause a vital process to become compromised, making you sick. Abnormal methylation has been linked to conditions like autoimmune disease, so it’s something I regularly check for in my practice.
But what's been largely overlooked is that some people cause overmethylation in their body when they are treating their undermethylation. Though more often than not, an overmethylator has been experiencing overmethylation beginning at birth. Due to the lack of information, they are completely unaware this is a problem for them.
This leads us to the obvious next question. What does overmethylation look like?
12 Symptoms of Overmethylation
Genetics, nutrition, and environment can all lead to both undermethylation and overmethylation. Though overmethylation is less common, it's still a problem I see in my office fairly regularly. So I suspect that overmethylation is actually a bigger problem than we've yet to discover. The end product of methylation is called SAMe, when your body becomes overmethylated there's too much SAMe floating around.
Symptoms of overmethylation include:
- Panic attacks
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Behavior disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Histamine intolerance
- Sensitive to environmental toxins
- Highly creative
- High energy
People who are experiencing overmethylation are generally very anxious. This is because overmethylation can create high levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine in the brain. In general, your neurotransmitter activity is strongly associated with your ability to appropriately use methyl groups. Which is why if you're struggling with any mental health disorders, it's a good idea to look into your methylation potential.
MTHFR genetic mutations that can contribute to overmethylation include: AGAT, GAMT, CBS and MT. Keep in mind that just because you have an MTHFR mutation doesn't mean that you're going to experience under or overmethylation. In fact, if there is one thing you take away from today's blog I hope it's that.
Easy access to genetic testing like 23andMe has led to people discovering that they have the potential for over or undermethylation and becoming unnecessarily worried. This is why I strongly recommend if you suspect you are experiencing overmethylation, you seek the support of a functional medicine doctor.
Methylation & Histamine
We can tell if you’re overmethylated because we can measure the concentration of methyl groups in the body. Plus, there is an inverse relationship between methyl groups and histamine. So if you tend to have high methyl groups, you'll also likely be low in histamine. This is why people who are overmethylated also often struggle with histamine intolerance.
Another interesting interaction between methylation and histamine is when there's too much histamine in the body, and there is already inflammation due to some other cause (maybe it's environmental toxins or something else) – high histamine can become depleted (histamine intolerance), which then contributes to overmethylation. This can become a reinforcing cycle.
When we compare methyl groups to histamine levels, we can get a better idea of what exactly is going on in your methylation process.
What To Do if You're an Overmethylator
If you're an overmethylator, you're going to respond really well to plant-based diets because of the high levels of folic acid. In fact, if you've ever done a juice cleanse and it felt fantastic, there's a good chance that you are overmethylating.
Foods high in methionine (an essential amino acid) are likely to contribute to higher levels of methyl groups because it's needed in the methylation process. Foods high in methionine include things like red meat, eggs, and milk. If you think you are overmethylating, you might want to cut back in some of these.
If you related to many of the symptoms listed above and you found that you do really well on a heavily plant-based diet, there's a good chance that you are experiencing overmethylation. Folate will also help if you are overmethylating, which might seem counterintuitive if you already know that it is also what's recommended to people who undermethylate. But in an overmethylator, methyl-folate helps reduce the activity of the neurotransmitters that are contributing to the high-energy and anxiety.
For most people who experience overmethylation, it can be easily managed if you know that's what you're working with. But because there isn't a lot of information on overmethylation, most people don't realize that it's a huge factor contributing to their overall health. This is why experimenting with your food and supplementation safely is so important. Methylation is in a perfect example of how our bodies are unique and require individualized practices.