What is Methylation? The Methylation cycle is an essential bio-chemical process which occurs in all mammals to detoxify, synthesise DNA/RNA and repair our cells. Methylation is crucial to production and activation of our brain chemicals (termed: neurotransmitters), hormone regulation and certain metabolic functions.
DNA methylation is a biological mechanism (termed: Epigenetics) to regulate gene receptor expression (i.e.: switch genes on or off).
Methyl groups and the methylation mechanism: A ‘methyl group’ comprises three hydrogen and one carbon atom. Methylation is the transfer of these methyl groups to the body’s hormones, brain and other chemicals, specialised cells and DNA/RNA substrates. Methylated compounds are now activated to perform their specific respective functions throughout the body.
The methylation process is critically reliant on the bio-availability of particular nutrients: Vitamins B2, B6, B12, Folate; Choline – an essential micro-nutrient – and the amino acid Serine (MTHFR Support Australia – Frequently asked questions: 2016)
The importance of an optimally-functioning Methylation cycle: Methylation is an inexorable process at the genetic-cellular level which – when functioning optimally helps protect the body, or – when defective increases our potential health risks.
The three principal cycles of methylation are the Folate/Methionine cycles and the Trans-sulphuration pathway. Methionine and Trans-sulphuration are particularly important due to their actions on Homocysteine.
Homocysteine is an amino acid by-product regarded as a medical marker for cardiovascular and neurological disease when elevated. Deficiencies of B6, B12, Folic acid or a genetic mutation (MTHFR) for C677T are the common causes of hyperhomocysteinaemia.
A low homocysteine may also cause disturbance in methylation as homocysteine is required for the conversion of methionine to cysteine. Low homocysteine also limits glutathione production to assist the body in responding to oxidative stress – as well as indirectly decreasing the detoxification factors of Sulphate and Taurine.
The accepted Australian reference range for Homocysteine is 6-14 umol/L, with optimal target being 7 umol/L (Van Zanden: 2018). A homocysteine level of <4.0 nmol/mL is the cut-off mark requiring supplementation (Fitzgerald et al: 2006).
Dysfunctional methylation is associated with an increase in oxidative stress – particularly within cell mitochondria which are most susceptible to the effects of oxidative stress (Underwood: 2013).
Health issues associated with obstructed Methylation pathways: Dysfunctional methylation in a pregnant woman is implicated in neurological disorders in the developing baby; neural tube defects (Spina Bifida) in Folate metabolism and Autism Spectrum disorder (Underwood: 2013).
- Neurological and mood disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, depression, chronic anxiety, migraine headache, chronic insomnia, ADD/ADHD.
- Metabolic disturbance such as thyroid dysfunction, diabetes or disorders of the immune system.
- Reproductive disorders such as infertility, recurrent miscarriage and PCOS.
- Sparse body hair is a common sign of under-methylation.
Scalp Hair Growth: As one of the body’s most metabolically-active processes, scalp hair follicles can grow hair without interruption for up to 6-8 years to produce hair of extensive and impressive length. A scalp hair bulb will typically produce 0.35 mm of hair shaft per day – and up to 1 cm per day in some ethnic races.
The most important components of the hair follicle and hair growth are the hair bulb and the dermal papilla. These lie at the base of the hair follicle with the vital functions of cell division (termed: mitosis) and hair cell production.
Each dermal papillae is supplied by capillary blood – and as such – is the determining barometer of nutrient-hormonal-metabolic or other disturbances within the body that may disrupt hair growth. If the dermal papilla is destroyed hair growth will cease from that follicle.
The hair bulb has two parts: the germinal matrix (lower region) and the upper level bulb. Each hair bulb surrounds the dermal papilla’s loose connective tissue.
How Methylation would influence hair growth: the undifferentiated cells of the germinal matrix are constantly dividing and reproducing. As such they are critically sensitive to oxidative stress and fluctuations in nutrient-hormonal supply, body temperature or other imbalance to homeostasis. This is compounded by hair growth NOT considered essential to the body’s vital functions, and support of hair growth will be suspended if other physiological priorities arise.
Numerous conditions associated with faulty methylation will adversely affect scalp hair growth and result in a loss of scalp hair density: thyroid dysfunction, insulin-glucose related conditions; autoimmune disease – or reproductive disorders in females to cite just a few (1).
As DNA/RNA synthesis and cell mitochondria function are dependent on optimised methylation pathways, physiological disturbance affecting scalp follicle hair growth quite literally may extend to microscopic levels.
There are number of specialist functional-integrative laboratories offering Methylation primary and follow-up profiles both here in Australia and overseas. How comprehensive the profile would be determined by the treating Practitioner in consultation with their patient.
Conclusion: being prescribed Minoxidil, Cortisone or other hormonal medication such as Spironolactone, HRT or the ‘pill’ as a first response treatment strategy will do little to influence physiological disturbance within the body.
This also extends to the myriad commercial hair regrowth enterprises flogging one treatment fits all programs, clinically UNPROVEN lotions or potions, laser caps, hats and brushes or aerating rollers.
Then there are the pure charlatans who prey on the anxieties of others by offering supposedly wondrous or miracle ‘cures’ at extortionate costs.
Rather a comprehensive assessment of the person’s clinical history and individual nutrient-metabolic or hormonal status should first be undertaken.
Once the underlying disturbance is revealed an appropriate treatment (or further investigation) – aligned to what the Client is comfortable in undertaking – can then be confidently implemented.
- Insulin Resistance, Insulin-dependent or non-insulin dependent diabetes.
A note from Anthony Pearce: Methylation is a very complex field of molecular medicine, and patients seeking assistance in this area should only consult an experienced and trained medical professional.
Copyright Anthony Pearce 2018 (revised 2021)