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What I’d Really Love to Tell You About the Methylation Cycle

Dr. Hank Liers, PhD geneticsI previously published “Homocysteine Genetics – Coenzyme B Vitamins” in which I considered in-depth how homocysteine (an intermediate chemical in the Methylation Cycle) is formed from methionine, how genetics affects the metabolic pathways, and how B vitamins are used in metabolic pathways. I also wrote “Folate Ingredients – Folinic Acid & 5-MTHF” which discussed how coenzyme folate vitamins are far superior to the synthetic folic acid form. In today’s article, I take a broader view of the topic that encompasses the Methylation Cycle, genetics, and B vitamins.

THE METHYLATION CYCLE

The Methylation Cycle is considered to be one of the most important metabolic pathways in the human body. Its most important function is to provide methyl groups via SAM (S-adenosyl methionine) to hundreds of different body substrates. Methylation is continually occurring in the body, transforming many millions of molecules throughout the body every second. Molecules receive methyl groups, then separate and recombine continuously, transforming and reforming constantly in the ongoing process of life!

As a reminder of the pathways involved in the Methylation Cycle, the following figure provides a flow chart showing the details.

 

Methylation Cycle

Figure 1. Metabolic Pathways in Methylation Cycle

A key purpose of this cycle is to provide methyl groups (CH3) needed by a broad range of of body functions (over 200 different functions). Examples include:

  1. Influences the genetic expression that parents give their children and helps guide the development of the embryo.
  2. Is needed by the nervous system to produce neurotransmitters and maintain the nerves.
  3. Mobilizes fats and cholesterol so they do not accumulate where they are harmful, such as the arteries and liver.
  4. Regulates hormones, including, estrogen, adrenaline, and melatonin.
  5. Detoxifies harmful chemicals and histamine a prime substance involved in inflammation.
  6. Helps repair damaged proteins in the cells so they can function properly.
  7. Protects the DNA in the genome (genetic code) to reduce the chances of mutation.
  8. Creates antioxidants used in the antioxidant defense system.

DESCRIPTION OF PATHWAYS WITHIN THE METHYLATION CYCLE

The overall flow of the Methylation Cycle begins with dietary methionine (an essential amino acid) which combines with ATP (adenosine triphosphate – body energy) to form SAM (S-adenosyl methionine) – the common cosubstrate involved in methyl group transfers, transsulfuration, and aminopropylation. When SAM transfers a methyl group to a body chemical the residue from this reaction leads to the production of homocysteine.

Homocysteine can be converted in the transsulfuration pathway that requires coenzyme vitamin B6 to produce cysteine, glutathione, taurine, and sulfates. These sulfur containing substances provide important antioxidant protection and detoxification functions in the body.

Homocysteine can be converted back to methionine through the betaine (trimethyl glycine) pathway which requires zinc and magnesium. This pathway also requires dietary betaine or choline which the body can convert into betaine.

Also, homocysteine can be converted back to methionine via the remethylation pathway which requires 5-MTHF, coenzyme vitamin B2 and methylcobalamin (B12).

GENETICS

It is important to understand that each of the pathways described above are able to be executed only in the presence of enzymes (shown in blue boxes in the diagram) created by specific genes in your genetic code. For example, Betaine-Homocysteine S-Methyltransferase (BHMT) is the enzyme required in the betaine pathway, Cystathione Beta Synthase (CBS) is the enzyme required in the transsulfuration pathway, and Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (MTHFR) and Methionine Synthase (MS) are enzymes required in the remethylation pathway.

Assuming that you have perfect genetics (no mutations, SNPs, free radical damage, insertions/deletions, etc.), the proper functioning of these pathways are still subjected to the fact that the required vitamins and minerals (vitamin B6, vitamin B2, Folate, vitamin B12, zinc, magnesium, and betaine) need to be provided by your diet or from supplements for the body to function correctly.

In addition, exposure to high levels of toxins from your environment and high levels of stress require that the nutritional needs will be even higher for the pathways to work properly. For example, exposure to high levels of toxins requires that the transsulfuration pathway be more active possibly reducing the amount of available methionine to support necessary methyl transfer reactions.

For these reasons alone the consensus of knowledgeable practitioners is that you should be eating an organic whole foods diet, taking appropriate nutritional supplements, avoiding and eliminating toxins from food, water, and air (living in a clean environment), and avoiding an unduly stressful life. All of these actions fall into the category of Epigenetics which you generally have control over!! Doing these things alone could significantly balance the functioning of your Methylation Cycle and improve your health.

Unfortunately, few people have perfect genetics which often causes the various pathways in the Methylation Cycle to become imbalanced and unable to correct the dysregulation imposed upon the body. For example, the enzyme MTHFR can have heterozygous (single chromosome) genetic variations in up to 50% of certain populations and homozygous genetic variations (both chromosomes) in 10% or more of certain populations.

Some disorders that researchers have associated with MTHFR genetic variations include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Asthma
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Autism
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Bladder issues
  • Blood clots
  • Breast problems
  • Chemical sensitivity
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Down syndrome
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gastric problems
  • Glaucoma
  • Heart murmurs
  • High blood pressure
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Leukemia
  • Male infertility
  • Methotrexate toxicity
  • Migraines with aura
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Nitrous oxide toxicity
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Pulmonary embolisms
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stroke
  • Thyroid issues
  • Unexplained neurologic disease
  • Vascular dementia

This extensive list is highly significant and tells us that it is very important to have genetic testing done for the genes/enzymes in the Methylation Cycle pathway. I prefer the BodySync genetic test which evaluates the key Methylation Cycle genes plus many other important genes in a single test.

B VITAMINS AND MINERALS

We are strong believers that everyone should start their nutritional program by eating a balanced, organic, whole foods diet. We have been doing this ourselves for the past 30 years. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people follow this advice and in most cases this leads to poor nutritional status that does not adequately support the body’s needs. This is especially true with respect to obtaining the nutrients needed to support the Methylation Cycle.

Nine of our family members and associates have taken the BodySync genetic test which evaluates the condition of 45 different enzymes including CBS, MTHFR (2 variations), MTR (related to B12 and 5-MTHF as they relate to methionine synthase – MS), and MTRR (related to maintaining B12 levels needed by the MTR enzyme). In every case the results showed at least 2 and up to 4 enzymes had genetic variations. These results indicate that the nutritional requirements for folate as 5-MTHF, vitamin B12 as methylcobalamin, vitamin B6, vitamin B2, magnesium and zinc will likely be significantly greater than normal.

Given the above information, it seems essential for good health to take nutritional supplements that provide the important nutrients. Below I will discuss various formulas that I have developed and refined over many years that are useful especially for the Methylation Cycle.

Please note that Health Products Distributors, Inc. (HPDI) is the preferred supplier of nutritional supplements by the BodySync genetic testing company.

MULTIVITAMINS

When looking at the total needs the body has for nutrients that the body does not produce, including fat soluble vitamins (A, D (some), E, K1 and K2), vitamin C, B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, folate, B12, biotin, choline, and inositol), minerals (Ca, Mg, Zn, Se, Cu, Mn, Cr, Mo, K, boron, and vanadium), and betaine it only seems wise to include as a top priority a Multivitamin that includes all of these in what I term therapeutic amounts (carefully selected after evaluating thousands of research studies carried out over many years.)

In this context, it is important to recognize that every enzymatic reaction in the body requires mineral cofactors in order to carry out its function. A good multivitamin provides many of these required minerals.

Additionally, the multivitamin should contain ingredient forms that research has confirmed to be the most absorbable and usable by the body. These include coenzyme B vitamins, Krebs cycle (citrate, alpha-ketoglutarate, succinate, fumarate, & malate) minerals, and amino acid chelates.

In the context of supporting the Methylation Cycle we are looking for specific forms and amounts of B vitamins that can adequately provide the body’s needs. The means that there should be coenzyme folate as 5-MTHF of at least 400 mcg, coenzyme vitamin B-12 as methylcobalamin of at least 200 mcg, Vitamin B6 (including significant amounts of pyridoxal 5′ phosphate) of at least 40 mg, and Vitamin B2 (including significant amounts of riboflavin 5′ phosphate) of at least 25 mg. In addition, magnesium (100 mg) and zinc (at least 20 mg) should be provided.

Please note that the body’s requirements for magnesium is generally accepted by nutritional experts to be higher than 400 mg daily (and as high as 1,000 mg daily). For this reason we generally recommend that a person take supplemental magnesium (such as HPDI’s MYO-MAG) at levels over 400 mg daily.

The two multivitamin formulas Health Products Distributors provides for adults that meet these requirements (and more) are the Hank & Brian’s Mighty Multi-Vite and Multi Two (in both capsule and tablet forms). Click on the bottles below for technical details.

Hank & Brian's Mighty Multi-Vite multivitamin methylation cycle

Multi Two Caps or Tablets methylation cycle

B COMPLEX

In situations where significant genetic variations are present it may be wise to add a B COMPLEX supplement to the MULTIVITAMIN to provide even larger amounts of the needed B vitamins. HPDI provides a B-Complex-50 product that includes significant amounts of coenzyme forms and contains 50 mg of Vitamin B1, 50 mg of Vitamin B2, 100 mg of Vitamin B3, 50 mg of Vitamin B6, 500 mcg of coenzyme folate (both folinic acid and 5-MTHF), 100 mcg of B12 (both methylcobalamin and hydroxocobalmin), 50 mg of Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), 500 mg of Biotin, 50 mg of choline, and 50 mg of inositol. Click on the bottle below for technical details.

B-Complex-50 full spectrum B vitamins with coenzyme forms methylation cycle

FOLATE AS 5-MTHF

In situations where an inadequate diet is present and genetic testing indicates an MTHFR variation (especially a homozygous variation) Health Products Distributors provides a 5-MTHF folate supplement that easily absorbs into the body and can be directly used in combination with Vitamin B12 to convert homocysteine to methionine. Click on the bottle below for technical details.

5-MTHF 1 mg in veggie cap methylation cycle

5-MTHF 1 mg in veggie cap

B-12 as METHYLCOBALAMIN

It is often the case for older patients and vegetarians that Vitamin B12 is deficient. In these cases it is wise to supplement with a significant amount of methylcobalamin to ensure that the Methylation Cycle has sufficient to effectively convert homocysteine into methionine. Health Products Distributors Vitamin B12 contains 5 mg of methylcobalamin in sublingual lozenge form that supports excellent absorption even if swallowed and absorbed by diffusion. Click on the bottle below for technical details.

Vitamin B-12 5 mg methylcobalamin sublingual lozenge methylation cycle

Vitamin B-12 – 5 mg Methylcobalamin sublingual lozenge.

MINERALS

Magnesium and zinc are two important minerals used in the betaine pathway of the Methylation Cycle in which homocysteine is converted back to methionine.

In the body magnesium is involved in more than 400 essential metabolic reactions and is required by the adenosine triphosphate (ATP)-synthesizing protein in mitochondria. ATP, the molecule that provides energy for almost all metabolic processes, exists primarily as a complex with magnesium (MgATP). Therefore, it also is involved in converting methionine to SAM.

Over 300 different enzymes depend on zinc for their ability to catalyze vital chemical reactions. Zinc-dependent enzymes can be found in all known classes of enzymes.

Health Products Distributors provides 100 mg magnesium/vcap in its MYO-MAG supplement which is especially important in increasing ATP in the Krebs Cycle. This product also contains vitamin B1, vitamin B2, and vitamin B6 with substantial amounts of coenzyme forms and manganese. Click on the bottle below for technical details.

MYO-MAG with 100 mg magnesium per serving key B vitamins methylation cycle

MYO-MAG with 100 mg magnesium per serving and key B vitamins.

Health Products Distributors provides 25 mg zinc/serving in its Double Zinc Plus supplement. This formula provides zinc in the picolinate and citrate forms as well as 3 mg of P5P (coenzyme B6). Click on the bottle below for technical details.

Double Zinc Plus supplement with P5P and 25 mg zinc methylation cycle

Double Zinc Plus supplement with P5P and 25 mg zinc

SUMMARY

The Methylation Cycle is recognized as one of the most important metabolic pathways in the human body. When not properly supported by key B vitamins and minerals, the Methylation Cycle can become severely imbalanced which can lead to a very wide range of poor health conditions. Furthermore, genetic variations in the genes that produce important enzymes allowing the Methylation Cycle to function correctly lead to even further imbalances and greater possibility for conditions of poor health.

In this article, I have provided insight into how the Methylation Cycle works and how it can be significantly supported by lifestyle changes regarding diet and environment (Epigenetics) and by specific B vitamins and mineral supplements that I have developed over many years. In addition, we have shown that knowledge gained from genetic testing can further provide a critical understanding of your specific needs so that your health can be optimized.

RELATED HPDI BLOG ARTICLES

Homocysteine Genetics – Coenzyme B Vitamins

 

HOMOCYSTEINE GENETICS – COENZYME B VITAMINS

Dr. Hank Liers, PhD homocysteine coenzyme B vitaminsWe previously published an article titled FOLATE INGREDIENTS – FOLINIC ACID & 5-MTHF in which we discuss how coenzyme folate vitamins are far superior to the synthetic folic acid form. In today’s article, I take a more in-depth look at how homocysteine is formed from methionine, how genetics affects the metabolic pathways, and how B vitamins are used in metabolic pathways.

One way to look at the metabolic pathways of methionine (an essential amino acid) is that it provides a way for the body to convert this sulfur containing amino acid either to cysteine and its key by-products glutathione, taurine, and sulfates or allows remethylation back to methionine to occur using either the Folate Cycle or the Trimethyl glycine (betaine) pathways.

Figure 1 shows these metabolic pathways including the vitamins required at each step including vitamin B6 (as P-5-P), methylcobalamin, and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). In addition, it shows the key enzymes produced by the body at each step. These enzymes include CBS (cystathione beta synthase), BHMT (betaine homocysteine methyltransferase), MS (methionine synthase), and MTHFR (methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase).

homocysteine metabolism diagram

Figure 1. Metabolic Pathways in Methionine and Homocysteine Metabolism

HEALTH ISSUES ASSOCIATED WITH HIGH HOMOCYSTEINE LEVELS

It is highly important that the various metabolic pathways function correctly to keep homocysteine at healthy levels (6–8 µmol/L). Unfortunately, high levels of homocysteine in the body (10–20 µmol/L) are a factor in a wide range of health issues, including:

  • Greater risk for heart problems, including coronary artery disease, heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and abnormal cholesterol levels. This is due to increased inflammation, sometimes due to blood clotting spontaneously, and because of blockages of the major arteries.
  • Mental abnormalities such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental problems are more common among people with high homocysteine
  • Migraines and headaches in a significant percentage of the population
  • In those who suffer from high homocysteine due to having nutritional deficiencies anemia, aches and pains, hearing loss, age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), slowed development, and birth defects might also be possible
  • Greater risk for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, brain atrophy, and other cognitive problems
  • In children, skeletal and developmental abnormalities including having a curved spine or protruding chest and rib cage. Some patients appear very tall and thin, and some might also have very long, thin “spider-like” toes and fingers.
  • Behavioral problems, including ADHD, autism and other learning disabilities

ROLE OF GENETICS IN HOMOCYSTEINE METABOLISM

Ten or more years ago, questions of how genetics enters into homocysteine metabolism were unlikely to be asked. However, in recent years DNA testing has advanced and is now available to everyone (for example, see my article about Bodysync’s genetic test, DISCOVERING NUTRITIONAL NEEDS THROUGH ADVANCED GENETIC TESTING.

You may have heard a great deal about MTHFR (methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase). This gene is involved in folate metabolism and has a central role in methylation processes like repair of and building new DNA in dividing cells.

In the remethylation pathway for conversion of homocysteine to methionine, MTHFR plays a key role in converting folate into 5-MTHF which is needed along with B12 as methylcobalamin in order for the conversion to take place. Genetic variations in MTHFR have been studied in depth. Of the many variations studies the most significant ones appear to be variations of C677C such as C677T (referred to as heterozygous) or T677T (referred to as homozygous). The heterozygous variant appears in about 30–50% of the population and causes somewhat less efficiency in the conversion of folic acid to 5-MTHF. However, the homozygous variation occurs in about 10% of the population and can have serious effects due to converting little homocysteine back to methionine.

Another variation in MTHFR is called A1298A. These variations are A1298C and C1298C and will have similar effects to the C677C variations. It was interesting to me when I recently analyzed my Bodysync genetic test results showing I carry the variation A1298C (heterozygous), which indicates I may not be effectively converting homocysteine back to methionine.

Additionally, my Bodysync genetic test results also indicate that I have heterozygous variations in the CBS enzyme shown in Figure 1, as well as heterozygous variations in MTR and MTRR enzymes, which are involved with B12 levels in the remethylation pathway. These results indicate that I need to take higher levels of methylcobalamin and 5-MTHF.

IMPORTANCE OF COENZYME FORMS AND PROPER AMOUNTS OF B VITAMINS

Many of the B vitamins on the market today unfortunately are in synthetic form. The body can only use the natural coenzyme forms effectively. For example, the body needs vitamin B6 in the form of P-5-P (pyridoxal-5-phosphate), folate in the form of L-5-MTHF, and B12 in the form of methylcobalamin for proper metabolism of methionine. In some cases the body can use the synthetic forms of pyridoxine HCl, folic acid, and cyanocobalamin but pays a cost (e.g., in time and energy) by having to convert synthetic forms to coenzyme forms.

Add to the prevalence of synthetic B vitamins, the fact that genetic deficiencies are more common than previously assumed, and it becomes clear that the coenzyme forms of B vitamins in the proper amounts are extremely important.

Fortunately, I have always believed it best to include as many coenzyme forms as possible in the nutritional supplements I formulate (over the past 27 years). For example, all HPDI multivitamins include coenzymes of B1, B2, B6, B12, and folate (as 5-MTHF and folinic acid). This is uncommon in most multivitamin formulas on the market. For this reason our supplements are ideally suited to the prevention or resolution of most genetic problems regarding homocysteine.

In addition, I have always chosen to include higher amounts than most multivitamins on the market. We also make available 5-MTHF one milligram (1 mg) capsules and methylcobalamin five milligram (5 mg) sublingual tablets. When genetic variations are in play as discussed above, then providing relatively higher amounts of coenzyme B vitamins that support important requirements in the body seems necessary.

Interestingly, several other nutrients are involved in the pathways involving methionine and homocysteine. These include zinc, magnesium, and Vitamin B2. Our multivitamin formulas and magnesium formulas, especially Myo-Mag with its coenzyme B1, B2, and B6, are recommended to support these nutrient needs. Finally, it has been found that N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) can significantly lower homocysteine (by up to 50%), most likely because its gives the body an excellent source of cysteine without have to use methionine.

SUMMARY

In this article, I have shown the value of the use of genetic testing and high-quality coenzyme B vitamins in resolving health issues associated with high values of homocysteine in the body.

 

SOURCES & RESOURCES

DISCOVERING NUTRITIONAL NEEDS THROUGH ADVANCED GENETIC TESTING.

FOLATE INGREDIENTS – FOLINIC ACID & 5-MTHF

The Homocysteine Revolution by Kilmer S. McCully, MD

Role of hyperhomocysteinemia in endothelial dysfunction and atherothrombotic disease
(Cell Death and Differentiation 11, S56–S64)

PRODUCTS

5-MTHF
(coenzyme folate)

Methylcobalamin
(vitamin B12)

B-Complex-50

HPDI Multivitamins