Hundreds of cellular processes involve methylation, a chemical reaction that begins when a methyl group attaches to an atom or molecule. It’s a vital metabolic process that takes place in every cell and organ in your body.
Methylation is profoundly connected to mental health. If serotonin isn’t properly methylated, for example, it will become inactive, which leads to depression. Since I was born undermethylated and have also experienced copper overload, I’ve traversed the ins and outs of methylation disorders my entire life, and I’m eager to share what I’ve learned so you can better understand your own experiences.
What is Methylation?
DNA methylation is one of several epigenetic mechanisms that cells use to control gene expression. Methylation controls the activating and silencing of genes; when a methyl group binds to a gene, it changes that gene’s expression.
Methylation happens when one molecule passes a methyl group (a carbon atom plus three hydrogen atoms) to another molecule. Methylation involves the conversion of the amino acid methionine into S-Adenosyl methionine (SAM-e). SAM-e then travels around your body and contributes methyl groups to various compounds that directly affect most of the essential processes in your body. At the end of its journey, SAM-e turns into homocysteine and gets recycled back into methionine to begin the entire process again.
When a methyl group is added to a biochemical cellular process, it’s called methylation. When a methyl group is removed, it’s called demethylation. Methylation and demethylation occur billions of times per second. Billions of switches inside your body get turned on and off, directly affecting your brain chemistry, immune response, inflammatory response, energy production, cellular repair, and more.
Proper methylation is crucial to happiness and well-being. Making too much or not enough methyl impairs the ability to think clearly, have meaningful relationships, have a healthy body, and live a fulfilling life. In today’s world, methylation problems are commonplace due to food and environmental toxins, emotional trauma, genetic errors, and stress.
Methylation is automatically occurring all day, every day; it’s something we don’t even think about, so we’re less likely to suspect methylation as the cause of disruptions in our physical or mental health.
How Do You Know if You Have a Methylation Problem?
If you don’t methylate well, your body’s detoxification processes will become impaired, leading to a buildup of toxins (like heavy metals) in the body. Your DNA/RNA expression will change, often leading to chronic disease. You may also notice the onset of any number of psychological conditions (including behaviors typical of individuals on the autism spectrum) due to neurotransmitter imbalances.
Symptoms of Poor Methylation
I often get asked, “What does poor methylation cause?” Proper methylation is essential to fundamental processes in the body and affects almost every tissue and organ system, so poor methylation can disrupt just about anything.
That said, the largest clinical issues most often involve the gut, the body’s detoxification system, and the brain (cognitive and personality issues).
What Are the Personality Symptoms of Undermethylation?
Undermethylation is much more common than overmethylation, and undermethylated parents have higher rates of autistic children due to epigenetic insults.
If you’re undermethylated, you’re likely to be a high-achiever who’s constantly striving for greater levels of career accomplishment. Undermethylated personalities tend to have at least graduate-level education and may come from affluent backgrounds. Entrepreneurs, corporate executives, professional athletes, doctors, lawyers, producers, and scientists all fit this type.
Looking at Hollywood and Silicon Valley as a whole, I can tell straight away the vast majority of these folks are undermethylated. Highly perfectionistic, no detail goes unnoticed. Despite accomplishments and accolades, undermethylated individuals may suffer from severe inner turmoil, yet remain calm on the outside.
If you’re undermethylated, you may have been self-motivated in school and probably come from a family of high-achievers. You have obsessive-compulsive tendencies you can’t seem to shake, and they drive you nuts. You’ve always been very strong-willed with a high libido. Despite poor concentration, ritualistic behaviors make you feel in control and you tend towards addiction.
You probably have a low tolerance for pain. Seasonal allergies and headaches may be a problem, yet you respond quite well to antihistamines. You respond well to antidepressants, but may isolate yourself socially because you feel misunderstood and struggle with phobias.
What Are the Personality Symptoms of Overmethylation?
If you’re overmethylated, you’ll experience the opposite of undermethylation. You’re likely to be creative and sensitive, with high empathy for others.
You may experience a high level of internal tension and anxiety, often causing learning issues or underachieving. You may have little motivation for scholastic achievements because you have trouble sitting still.
Hyperactivity, panic attacks, and a high tolerance for pain are also part of your profile. You may also have a tendency to overreact, feeling like everyone is “out to get you.” In clinical studies, about 45% of persons diagnosed with schizophrenia were found to be severely overmethylated.
Physically, you may be overweight with a pear-shaped body (but not always), have heavy body hair, struggle with eczema, have dry eyes and mouth, and experience upper body/head/neck pain.
You may struggle with depression, have trouble sleeping, and experience food and chemical sensitivities; low libido is also a part of your daily life.
If you’ve tried antidepressant medications, you probably didn’t respond favorably. Overmethylators have elevated serotonin and dopamine with low levels of histamine, which is why antidepressant medications can actually cause suicidal ideation in these individuals (SSRI’s increase neurotransmitter activity at the synapse).
Can Methylation Cause Anxiety?
Both methylation biotypes struggle with anxiety and addiction. The main difference is the cause. Extra neurotransmitter activity causes high anxiety and panic in overmethylators, which can lead to substance abuse. Too little neurotransmitter activity causes undermethylators to become obsessive-compulsive with a substance or concept (for me it was food/sugar/starving myself/being perfect no matter what).
The tragic suicides of Robin Williams and Kurt Cobain are classic examples of overmethylation, while Karen Carpenter was a classic undermethylator.
How Do You Treat Methylation Problems?
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Determining methylation status is not just about chemistry, but also about understanding you as a person. There are myriad variables within each biotype. And understanding each personality, combined with the complete range of functional and diagnostic testing, is how we create effective nutrient therapy protocols.
Does this post resonate with you? Or do you know of someone struggling in these areas? If so, please share your story in the comments below. It is through sharing your story that we create community, eliminate guilt and shame, and bring about healing.
 Walsh, William J. (2012). Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain. (185). New York, NY: Skyhorse.
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