Taking a selection of vitamins can optimise the function of ALL your body’s mechanisms. But you have to know what to take and it’s better if you also know why these supplements work the way they do.
This is why, in this today’s blog, I am going to talk about one of our body’s most important biochemical processes for lasting health and what you should do to keep it running at its very best with supplements and other measures.
Regrettably, many individuals suffer from one or more of the 8 factors that have a negative effect on this biochemical process, even without realising that they are affected by it.
Luckily there are quite a few things that you can do to optimise this process. Below you will find a review of the 8 factors that can lead to problems in this area, followed by several tips that will help you optimise this vital part of your biology.
Before moving on, I’d like to share with you what happened to two of my patients with apparently unrelated health problems that were actually caused by a breakdown in this biochemical process (I know I still have not told you what this process is). And I also want to highlight a study done in China on babies who had a birth defect known as spina bifida.
These 3 cases are all related to one another.
One of my patients, Mr. Post, was an 83-year-old businessman who didn’t let his age slow him down. He played golf three times a week, worked two days a week, gallivanted around the world, and was sexual active on a regular basis with a wife who was 30 years younger than him. He also loved having his scotch on the rocks as a night cup.
He did, however have some mild heart disease for which he was being treated adequately. His doctor even recommended 800 mcg of folic acid (vitamin B9) and 250 mcg of vitamin B12 — mega-doses by any common standard.
Mr. Post also had a complete health check-up and was told that he was healthy, despite being slight anaemic and having large red blood cells. Yet he still complained of being a little tired and having trouble with his short-term memory. Plus, I noticed a slightly wide gait common in someone with balance problems. I often see that with post-stroke patients.
Then there was Mr. Horowitz, an academic who was 50 years old, fit, and lean but seemed very concerned when he came to see me.
He told me a sad story about his 6 brothers. Four of whom had died of a heart attack and the other two had bypass operations at a relatively young age. Being aware of his genetic inheritance, he ate a low-fat diet, exercised regularly, didn’t smoke, had normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and took antioxidants and a multivitamin regularly. The only vice he reported of was the multiple Starbuck’s Grande lattes he drank every day. Living under a constant state of fear, Mr. Horowitz wanted my advice about a heart stress test he was considering undertaking.
Strange as it may seem, these two patients reminded me of an article about a study that was done on a group of women just north of Beijing in China. It seemed that there was an unusually high rate of birth defects in the area, specifically spina bifida.
The Chinese have a tradition of holding weddings during the Chinese New Year in February. In in this particular region, many of the babies who were born 9 months later had birth defects. This study found the link to be the lack of fresh greens or vegetables in that region during the middle of winter.
Interestingly, these Chinese babies, Mr. Post, and Mr. Horwitz all have something very important in common. They all have insufficient levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid, either acquired or genetic, and their methylation systems are not working as well as they should. I’ll explain more about what “methylation” is in a moment. But first an analysis of the similarities in these 3 cases.
I’ll start with Mr Post, who took high doses of B vitamins. Yet, he still had very high levels of homocysteine and methylmalonic acid — markers of folic acid and B12 deficiency.
Mr. Horowitz had similar issues. He had a genetically slow metabolism of homocysteine which caused extremely high levels of this toxic amino acid to accumulate in his blood. This was the likely cause of all the heart disease in his family.
Again we see a similar set of issues in the Chinese babies. Their mothers were conceiving in the middle of winter — when their folate intake was low because of the lack of fruits and vegetables. This is what prompted such a high rate of birth defects.
The common link in all three of these cases is a problem with methylation. Let’s see what that exactly means.
Methylation is a key biochemical process that is crucial for the proper function of almost all of our body’s systems. It occurs billions of times every second; it helps repair our DNA on a daily basis; it controls homocysteine; it helps recycle molecules needed for detoxification; and it helps maintain mood and keep inflammation low.
To keep methylation working properly we need optimal levels of B vitamins. Without enough B vitamins methylation breaks down, with potentially disastrous results. In these cases we see more birth defects like spina bifida, more cases of Down’s syndrome, and more miscarriages.
A failure in methylation also creates a higher risk for conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, cervical dysplasia, colon cancer, lung cancer, depression, paediatric cognitive dysfunction, dementia, and stroke. And like the two gentlemen, you may be at higher risk for heart disease.
To avoid all of these problems, the key is to maximize methylation. Which means avoiding those things that cause your methylation to fail, testing to find out how well your methylation is working, and including the things that support proper methylation.
What affects the methylation process and what to watch for in order to protect it?
Genetics – 20% of the population is genetically predisposed to high levels of homocysteine
Bad diet – Deprived of leafy greens, beans, fruit, and whole grains which helps get adequate levels of vitamins B6 and B12, betaine, and folate. Egg yolks, meat, liver, and oily fish are the main dietary sources of vitamin B12 — so long-term vegan diets can be a problem. Plus, certain compounds can raise levels of homocysteine and deplete our B vitamins. These include excess animal protein, sugar, saturated fat, coffee, and alcohol. Irradiation of food depletes nutrients, so foods treated in this way may also be lower in B vitamins
Smoking – The carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke render Vitamin B6 inoperative
Malabsorption – digestive diseases, food allergies, and even aging can reduce absorption of nutrients
Decreased stomach acid – Aging and other conditions can reduce stomach acid — and therefore absorption of vitamin B12
Medications – such as acid blockers, methotrexate (for cancer and arthritis and other autoimmune diseases), oral contraceptives, HCTZ ( diuretic prescribed for high blood pressure), and Phenytoin (anti- seizures drug) can all affect levels of B vitamins
Other conditions – These include hypothyroidism, kidney failure or having a single kidney, cancer, and pregnancy
Exposure to toxins – Some toxins can interfere with vitamin production
Measuring Your Methylation Process - Find out if your methylation process is optimal
Ask your doctor for the following tests:
Complete blood count – large red blood cells or anaemia can be a sign of poor
methylation. Red blood cells with a mean corpuscular volume (MCV) greater than 95 can indicate a methylation problem
Homocysteine – The normal level is less than 13, but the ideal level is probably between 6 and 8
Serum or urinary methylmalonic acid – a more specific test for vitamin B12 insufficiency. Your levels may be elevated even if you have a normal serum vitamin B12 or homocysteine level
Specific urinary amino acids – These can be used to look for unusual metabolism disorders involving vitamins B6 or B12 or folate, which may not show up just by checking methylmalonic acid or homocysteine
Tips to help Optimise the Methylation Process
Just as there are many causes of poor methylation, there are lots of things that support its proper functioning. Here’s how to maximise methylation — and prevent conditions like heart disease, cancer, dementia, depression, and others.
Consume more dark, leafy greens – You want to eat l cup a day of vegetables which are most abundant sources of the nutrients needed for optimal methylation
Get more vitamin B in your diet – Good food sources include sunflower seeds and wheat germ (vitamin B6); fish and eggs (vitamin B6 and B12); cheese (B12); beans and walnuts (vitamin B6 and folate); leafy dark green vegetables; asparagus, almonds, and whole grains (folate); and liver (all three)
Minimise consumption of animal protein, sugar, and saturated fat – Animal protein directly increases homocysteine. Sugar and saturated fat deplete our body’s vitamin stores
Avoid processed foods and canned foods – These are usually empty of vitamins
Avoid caffeine – Excess amounts can deplete levels of B vitamin
Limit alcohol to 3 drinks a week – More than this can deplete your B vitamin levels
Don’t smoke – As noted above, smoking inactivates vitamin B6
Avoid medications that interfere with methylation – See notes on this above
Maintain healthy bacteria in your gut– Take probiotic supplements and use other measures to make sure the bacteria in your gut are healthy so you can properly absorb the vitamins you do get
Improve stomach acid – Use herbal digestives (bitters) or taking supplemental Betaine HCL.
Take supplements that prevent damage caused by homocysteine –Antioxidants protect you from homocysteine damage. Also make sure you support methylation with supplements like magnesium and zinc
Supplement to help support proper homocysteine metabolism – Talk to your doctor or nutritionist to customise the best doses and forms for you. Here are a few suggestions- Folate (folic acid): Amounts can vary based on individual needs from 200 mcg to 1 mg. Some people may also need to take preformed folate (folinic acid or 5 formyl THF) to bypass some of the steps in activating folic acid Vitamin B6: Take 2 to 5 mg a day. Some people may need up to 250 mg or even special “active” B6 (pyridoxyl-5-phosphate) to achieve the greatest effect. Doses higher than 500 mg may cause nerve injury Vitamin B12: Doses of 500 mcg may be needed to protect against heart disease. Oral vitamin B12 isn’t well absorbed; you may need up to 1 or 2 mg daily. Ask your doctor about B12 shots Betaine: This amino acid derivative is needed in doses from 500 to 3,000 mg a day, depending on the person
By optimising your methylation process you can protect yourself from almost all of the “diseases of aging” and be well on the road to lifelong vibrant health.
If you’re concerned about you own health condition you may contact me for consultation.
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