Methylation And Its Importance
Methylation is something that not many people are knowledgeable about. It is a scientific process wherein it affects our mental health, immunity, and inflammation. To educate us more about this, Nutritional Sciences expert Chris Masterjohn will thoroughly explain why we should take methylation seriously.
Chris Masterjohn’s interest in pursuing a career in Nutrition goes way back during his teenage years. He witnessed how his mother suffered from fibromyalgia and how she often experienced chronic pain.
Diving into multi-level marketing for herbal products and water filters during his late teenage years, it was also around this time that Chris Masterjohn got interested in the Zone diet. From then on, his diet primarily consisted of 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat, low omega 6 and high omega 3.
“I was into radical politics, and I wanted to liberate everyone including the animals. That got me into veganism. When I was vegan, I got interested in the Zone diet and ate a lot of soy to get my protein up to 30% of my calories,” recalls Chris Masterjohn.
However, Chris Masterjohn encountered several problems while he was on a diet. He had a weak digestion and was often in pain due to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, overproduction of gas, vulnerable to tooth decay and prone to anxiety.
Weston A. Price
When Chris Masterjohn went on to college, he was working part-time at the campus dining hall. One day, his boss, Wayne, gave him a pamphlet about raw milk. That brochure also mentioned the work of Weston A. Price.
In the 1930s, Weston A. Price cited several causes of tooth decay. Decided on collecting more data to support the link between nutrition and tooth decay, Weston A. Price left his laboratory job.
Travelling far and wide in search of populations that had less tooth decay, Weston A. Price soon discovered the adverse effects of flour. He was one of the first experts to study traditional diets and lifestyles of people from all walks of life. This wealth of knowledge led him to write a book about nutrition and physical degeneration, leading him to be known as the pioneer of nutritional anthropology.
“Weston A. Price said that people with less tooth decay didn’t eat refined foods but rather focused on consuming nutrient-dense foods,” shares Chris Masterjohn. “Because of the book, I learned how to help myself. When I got better, I wanted to pay it forward. That is why I went on to medical school and studied chemistry.”
What are Methylation and Demethylation
One of Chris Masterjohn’s field of expertise is studying about methylation. In a nutshell, methylation involves one carbon and three hydrogen atoms combining to form another molecule. Demethylation, on the other hand, means the removal of the carbon and atoms.
How the molecules work in our body is called methylation and demethylation. When a methylation cycle is not working well, we could get sick. Consequently, if our methylation is imbalanced, it causes a lot of autoimmune conditions.
“Methylation plays the same role in mental health in everyone. Every piece of Biology is all based on carbon. Our body is primarily composed of carbon and hydrogen with a few other things thrown in,” said Chris Masterjohn. “Methylation in the scientific literature is often referred to as one-carbon metabolism.”
How Methylation Works
Chris Masterjohn says methylation controls the levels of dopamine in our brain. Methylation influences how ‘sticky’ our brain is versus to how fluid it is. Essentially, our primary goal is to have a nice balance. Because if our brain is too fluid, we can’t focus on anything. However, if our brain is too rigid, we tend to focus on all the wrong things.
“Methylation inside the brain has a very powerful influence on the ‘stickiness’ of your mind. If you’re afraid of something, that fearful thought enters your mind. If your mind is not too ‘sticky,’ it’s pretty easy for you to let it go through,” Chris Masterjohn explains.
He adds, “In cognitive therapy, if your mind is too ‘sticky,’ thoughts are lodged in the brain. Consequently, it takes a lot of mental effort to reorganize how you think about an idea.”
The brain is a very powerful and sensitive part of our well-being. Hence, it is important to make sure our mental health is in tiptop shape.
Take for example a panic attack. Chris Masterjohn says that a panic attack ultimately means panicking about panicking. The increase in panic reinforces our belief that our world is about to fall apart. As a result, we panic more about the rise in panic.
“You have to have a pathologically ‘sticky’ brain for even the thought of panic to just stay at the center of your brain and nucleate this crystallization of the increase in panic,” Chris Masterjohn said.
Furthermore, he says, “You can break that reinforcement by reformulating how you think about the panic you feel. However, if you just nutritionally modulate how ‘sticky’ your brain is, the panic doesn’t get stuck in the brain. Hence, you don’t have to do as much cognitive work to free yourself.”
Methylene Tetrahydrofolate Reductase (MTHFR)
Methylene Tetrahydrofolate Reductase Deficiency or MTHFR is a gene mutation which apparently is the cause of motor and developmental deficiencies. Chris Masterjohn explains that methylations impact throughout the body, particularly the brain. The process also involves the enzyme from the MTHFR gene. Hence, if one has an MTHFR gene mutation, the body tends to have a hard time expelling toxins from the body.
“When you have lower MTHFR activity, methylfolate is your off-switch for the glycine buffer system. That is why we tend to waste glycine and pee it out. When that happens, it means you need to put more emphasis on dietary glycine,” said Chris Masterjohn.
Correlation of Methylation and Creatine
So what do you do with methylation? Well, 45% of our methylation is used to synthesize creatine. For those who are unfamiliar, creatine is what athletes take to either improve sports performance or build more muscle.
However, what most people don’t realize is that all of us need to have two to three grams of creatine which is usually found in meat products. But most of us do not eat one to two pounds of meat per day; we need to make the rest of the creatine that our body needs. And one way to make it is through methylation.
“Creatine is not just in our muscles. It is essential for the secretion of stomach acids. If our creatine levels go down, we would have digestive problems because we’re not making enough stomach acids,” explains Chris Masterjohn.
Chris Masterjohn cites another example — when a sound comes into our ear; these little hairlike projections transmit the sound. Through the nerves, it goes to the brain to make the hearing. And that’s an energy-intensive process.
So consequently, one of the things that make creatine great at energy supply is that it moves fast. Plus, there’s substantial evidence that creatine plays a significant role in protecting against depression.
Importance of Nutrition
Now that we know how vital the methylation process is, it is imperative that we properly nourish ourselves to ensure that the significant methylation components — choline, creatine and glycine supply are sufficient.
Chris Masterjohn suggests that bone broth or bone stock can be an entryway to getting more glycine in particular. Eating soft bones is also another way. On the other hand, getting enough methylfolate can help prevent the glycine wasting. This can be done by eating folate-rich foods like legumes, liver, and leafy greens like broccoli.
Chris Masterjohn stressed the need to make sure you consume at least the daily recommended intake of folate from foods. Apparently, most people don’t even get the U.S. recommended dietary allowance for folate, pregnant or lactating women in particular. Consequently, this is why there is a policy in the United States to give prenatal vitamins that have synthetic folic acid in them.
“When you eat a molecule of folate, it goes into your cell and stays there for 180 days. Everyday, it gets re-methylated from your amino acid supply 18,000 times,” Chris Masterjohn said. “Supplementing with creatine is a very underappreciated way to try to help conserve the methylfolate supply that you’re taking.”
Looking back, Chris Masterjohn says what happened to him was wholly physiological and zero percent psychological. Once he fixed everything physiologically, it eventually translated into a psychological belief that he had in fact cured himself.
“That gave me a level of confidence. I was biased towards never worrying about any of those anxieties because I believed that they were gone,” Chris Masterjohn surmises.
To know more about methylation and gene expression, I suggest checking out Chris Masterjohn’s Masterclass. It is a comprehensive program where you will learn everything you need to know about the science behind nutrition and its effects on our health. He also has a fantastic podcast called Mastering Nutrition, available on iTunes.
Chris Masterjohn earned his Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences in 2012 from the University of Connecticut at Storrs, served as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 2012 to 2014, and served as Assistant Professor of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College from 2014 to 2016.
He now works independently in health and nutrition research, education, and consulting. Chris Masterjohn has authored or co-authored ten peer-reviewed publications. His podcast, Mastering Nutrition, his two video series, Chris Masterjohn Lite and Masterclass With Masterjohn, and his blog can all be found on his website at chrismasterjohnphd.com.
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