Methylation Defects:  The Hidden Link Among Alcoholism, Autism, Cancer and MoreMethylation is a subject that keeps coming up again and again for my sons and myself.  It’s one of those all-encompassing issues like toxicity or gut dysbiosis because so many diseases and conditions are linked, directly or indirectly, to it or rather, a lack of it.

What is methylation?  It’s the chemical process of donating a methyl group (CH3) to a molecule or compound.  This doesn’t sound like much, but this little group is very important to how our bodies function, as I’m finding out.

It not only helps with energy production and builds immune cells and neurotransmitters, but it also processes hormones, detoxifies our bodies, puts protective myelin sheath on our nerves, and can be responsible for epigenetic gene regulation.

Because of its association with all of these essential processes, an inability to methylate is linked to a whole host of diseases and conditions.  Methylation defects are linked to:

  • Diabetes
  • Alcoholism
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Osteoporosis
  • Spina bifida
  • Autism
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Pulmonary embolisms
  • Cleft palette
  • Parkinson’s
  • Neural tube defects
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Immune deficiency
  • ADD/ADHD
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Dementia
  • Chemical sensitivity
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Depression
  • Addictive behaviors
  • Insomnia
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Chronic viral infection
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Neuropathy
  • Recurrent miscarriages
  • Infertility
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Bipolar disorder

When I look at this long list of diseases, it makes sense to me now why so many of these occur within the same family.  Take my family for example.

On my dad’s side, both he and his sister died of cancer, and they both suffered from bipolar disorder.  On my mom’s side, she had alcoholism, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and depression.  My guess is she was probably hypothyroid, too.

My mom had lupus, too, which is not included on this list, but fibromyalgia is.  I’d bet that these and other autoimmune diseases are related to methylation defects, too, especially because the ability to methylate helps you detoxify, and autoimmune diseases, as well as most of the diseases listed, are linked to accumulated toxicity.

If you look at the next generation of my family, my sons had (I’ve recovered them) asthma (my older one), anxiety and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD – both of them had this).  SPD is not on the list, but I consider it “autism light”.

In fact, the way I recovered them was to look at it that way and use the same techniques (change in diet, correcting nutritional deficiencies, overcoming gut dysbiosis and removal of toxins) for recovering them as is done when recovering a child from autism.

It was Dr. Kenneth Bock’s book, Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies: The Groundbreaking Program for the 4-A Disorders, where I first read about what he calls the “miracle of methylation”.  I believe in this case, he’s talking about detoxification.

Most, if not all, children with autism, ADHD, allergies and asthma have methylation defects and are therefore not able to eliminate toxins.  So the toxins, especially heavy metals, accumulate and damage the nervous system, brain, tissues, organs, etc.

So can you see how methylation defects can lead to a number of diseases from one generation to the next?  My mom’s alcoholism and my dad’s cancer are both linked to methylation defects, which I received from them.  I’m having my own problems methylating (higher risk for breast cancer, hypothyroidism, etc.), and I passed this on to my sons, who had SPD, asthma, etc.

Nutritionist Dr. Ann Louise Gittelman recently posted on Facebook that the MTHFR (methyltetrahydrofolate) gene, which is responsible for proper methylation, is defective in nearly 30 – 50% of all Americans.  She believes that it is the number one health problem in this country today.

Benjamin Lynch, ND, says that MTHFR defects are more common in white Europeans (25-45%) and U.S. Hispanics (42%), and less so in Asians (14%) and African Americans (14%).

A genetic MTHFR mutation is one reason for a methylation defect, but there are several other causes of it, such as:

  • Lack of zinc, magnesium, or vitamin B6
  • Antacids
  • Niacin
  • Environmental toxicity from heavy metals, especially mercury and arsenic, and from acetylaldehyde, a bypodruct of yeast and alcohol growth/consumption

The genetic defect is fairly simple and cheap ($150 from Spectracell Labs) to test for, considering that knowing how to circumvent the problem can help you avoid so much pain and sickness in your or your family’s life.

If you really want to know more about this in detail, I highly recommend watching this presentation from Benjamin Lynch, ND:  Presentation on Methylation Defects and MTHFR.  It’s an hour and a half long, but it’s highly worth watching.  It’s one of the main sources of information for this particular blog.

Dr. Lynch says that the condition is easily correctable with either a high-dose methylated folic acid and methylated B-12 or a bit of both.

Here’s the tricky part, though.  What we see listed as “folic acid” or “folate” on processed foods is not the kind of high-dose methylated folic acid that he’s talking about.  It’s a synthetic version that was mandated by the government back in the 1990’s to help prevent birth defects.

Synthetic folic acid (or just “folic acid” or “folate” on the label) can actually do MORE harm to people with a methylation defect because it causes their toxic load to accumulate rapidly.  It also decreases natural killer cells, which are critical in fighting cancer.

So what do you do?  You can get your methyl groups straight from the source:  leafy greens.  The words folic and folate come from “foliage”, as in leaves.  Green juices and green-juice powders are excellent sources

Dr. Lynch recommends supplementing with methylcobalamin (methyl B12) and any one of the following types of folate only:

  • L (L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate (L-5-MTHF))
  • 6S,
  • quatrofolic or
  • metafolin; L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate (L-5-MTHF)

Dr. Lynch says if it’s not in one of those forms, avoid it, as it may do more harm than good.

The really great thing is that environmental and nutritional factors are likely to moderate genetic risk, so what you eat and supplement with can make a huge difference.  He recommends starting with foundational health first, ideally.

Doing the following things first will conserve valuable methyl groups:

  • Switch to the GAPS or Paleo diet
  • Reduce toxin and chemical exposure
  • Improve digestion
  • Have 2 or more well-formed bowel movements per day
  • Eliminate folic-acid antagonist medications
  • Check supplements for correct form
  • Check for H. pylori

Dr. Lynch also recommends these main therapies for increasing lymphatic flow and thus MTHFR:

  • Colonics
  • Far infrared saunas
  • Breathing exercises (such as pranayama)
  • Castor oil packs
  • Dry skin brushing
  • Hot yoga
  • Rebounding
  • Epsom salt baths
  • Paleo or GAPS with emphasis on uncooked greens, grass fed beef, vegetables, seeds
  • Coffee enemas (once feeling better, then begin)
  • Detox the home
  • Limit folic acid
  • Avoid vaccinations

In closing, here’s a short and sweet video from Dr. Mark Hyman, another functional-medicine doctor.  In it, he talks about maximizing methylation as the key to healthy aging.  And here’s an article he wrote for the Huffington Post about Folic Acid:  Killer or Cure-all?

Maria Rickert Hong is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor who received her training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.  She specializes in recovery from symptoms of autoimmune, neurological, behavioral and digestive disorders, as she has recovered her own sons from Sensory Processing Disorder, asthma and acid reflux.  She is also a board member, social media director and blogger for Epidemic Answers, a non-profit whose goal is to let parents know recovery is possible from autism, ADHD, SPD, allergies, asthma, autoimmune, Lyme and more.

Maria Rickert Hong can be contacted at maria[at]epidemicanswers[dot]org