That mouthful of a title is out of the hope that Physical Therapists will read this article and plug into something they may not know they do not know.
I also picked it because what any true health care provider (body worker, acupuncturist, psychiatrist, functional medicine doc, naturopath, shaman, etc) is trying to do is shift autonomics in a society that constantly drives us sympathetic.
Methylation is complicated. There are loops and and well over 100 SNPs (potentially influencing thousands) scattered all over the loops.
Methylation is also incredibly important. We are carbon based organisms, and methylation is how we shuffle our carbon units around. I hope the gravity and overarching importance of that sinks in.
I have debated writing an article on methylation for a long time because people love to show off with the complexity of this system. I am not going to do that. If you want to learn about methylation, you need to buy the material put out there by Dr. Ben Lynch, Dr. Amy Yasko, and other amazing providers like Dr. Chas Grant.
What I will do is tell a story…
My father was a stress addict who had to find meditation. He was pushed to it. He had no choice as he reached middle age and could feel the wheels coming off. Six of eight of my immediate descendants on my father’s side were driven to be alcoholics, and I was headed there early in my life. Yet, my father lasted far longer than me. The combination of the 21st century and my love for exercise and everything stressful burned me out hard at age 24 after being the Type A high achiever of high achievers.
Ladies and gentlemen, my dad and I are both double homozygous for all three catechol-O-methyltransferase or COMT SNPs.
Ohhhhh wow Ben! That means nothing to me…
I know, but when I figured this out, it was like the scene where Indiana Jones fits the weird object into the weird wall and then the awkward light shines down on him, and he walks into a vault full of shiny objects. Except the shiny object for me was understanding the underlying WHY of generations of suffering and self-medication.
And the importance of this why hit me like a breeze you have been waiting for your entire life.
COMT is the enzyme that clears Noradrenaline in the brain.
Noradrenaline is the fuse for the sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight). As double homozygous carriers, our COMT enzyme is 75% less effective, and thus our fuse stays lit way longer than most other humans.
You now should be thinking, “Why would human evolution allow my father’s line to live?!”
…but the body doesn’t do anything by chance, and these polymorphisms (mutations) we see in methylation genes do provide an evolutionary edge.
“Individuals in their younger reproductive years can tolerate methylation problems. They are just more productive, they work harder, they care more, they make more money, and they are more dynamic people generally. They are attractive as mates and they pass on these traits to their offspring, and that is why these genes are so common. These genetic polymorphisms actually confer advantages during the reproductive years.”
Chas Grant MD, PhD
But when you get to midlife, past the reproductive years and later, methylation defects result in increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, and many other disorders. Why? Stress is the underlying cause of most, if not all chronic diseases, and those with these genetic polymorphisms stay in the fire longer. Biologically, it doesn’t really matter if you get burnt if you have already reproduced. The evolutionary engine no longer cares about you (it never did), but myself and other Functional Medicine practitioners do.
My father and I are both highly successful from a societal “your mother should be proud of you” standpoint. We work best alone, as we get frustrated that other people don’t work as hard as us. This is because we are able to hold the sympathetic gas pedal down longer (or unable to take our foot off, whichever way you want to look at it). This means that we are more likely to scorched and both of us have. We have learned the hard way to pick our stressors carefully and be even more aware of pulling ourselves out of them.
We are carbon based organisms, and methylation is how we shuffle one carbon units around. Half the world’s population has genetic mutations in these enzymes, and half the world is deficient in the essential nutrients to run the methylation cycle appropriately.
Welcome to nutrigenomics and the topic we know the most about. Grab a breath and dive deep.
Here are the places I would jump into first.
If you want your own genetic information you will need to order a test kit from 23andme which costs $199. Then once you get the results back you will need to put the raw data through a program like MTHFR Support. This is the follow-up test that I encourage all of my patients to take part in most often given the importance of methylation and the fact that you only ever need to run it once.