Depressed? Anxious? You are Not Alone.
The New Research Behind How Methylation Affects Mental Health
Dr. Anne Zauderer
I’m about to blow your mind. Quite literally, change the way you think. A bold statement, I know. However, the concepts I’m going to present have the power to change how you approach the emotions you have and help you feel better than you’ve ever felt before.
Each of us has grown up viewing the world from a particular perspective. We were not always aware that our perspective might be very different from everyone else’s. A fish that swims in blue water doesn’t know it’s in blue water because that’s the way it’s always been! The perspective we have is influenced by all of the relationships and experiences we have in life. However, the other half of that equation, that most people are not aware of, is that our biochemistry also has a profound impact on our life perspective. This conversation speaks to the old debate in psychology of nature versus nurture. Are we more influenced by how we were raised or by our genetics? The answer, of course, is we are influenced by both. (This is why identical twins, who have the same genetics, can turn out very differently.) In this article I want to help bridge the gap between nature and nurture to help explain a process in the body where the two biochemically intertwine: methylation.
Methylation is a biochemical process in the body that happens in every single cell and is therefore happening over a million times every second. It is a process by which the body transfers methyl groups (CH3) from one substrate to another. It is the transferring of these methyl groups that, in essence, turns the methylation cycle. You can think about the methylation cycle as a large gear that is turning. There are other gears that fit into the sprockets of the “methylation gear.” How fast the methylation gear is turning affects how fast other biochemical gears are turning (such as detoxification gears, neurotransmitter/mood gears, and folate reduction gears). Therefore, how we methylate affects how we emotionally feel, how we detoxify, and even how our DNA works! When this system slows down or speeds up, it can have a profound impact on us.
Why would this system go awry?
With a basic understanding of genetics, we know that DNA is not easily changed. It takes many, many generations to change the “hard wiring” of our DNA. In the same way, we also know that certain genetic conditions that are built into the DNA cannot be changed, such as having an extra chromosome in Down Syndrome. However, experience teaches us that because of our family history we may be at a much greater risk for certain diseases. For example, if you are a woman whose mother had breast cancer, you have a twofold risk of developing breast cancer in your lifetime. This increased risk that you possess is due to epi-genetic changes.
The prefix “epi-“ means “above” or “outside of.” When we talk about epigenetics, we are referring to the translation of the DNA code rather than the DNA itself. If DNA is a code, then epigenetic proteins are responsible for translating that code to build enzymes and proteins in the body. What’s amazing is that these proteins are heavily influenced by our environment. The body can turn on or turn off these proteins based on the needs of the body. This mechanism allows the body to quickly adapt to an ever-changing environment.
One other epigenetic phenomenon to note is that sometimes the proteins responsible for translating our DNA make mistakes. These mistakes are called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). When these errors occur, there are small changes in the production of enzymes, which affect their function. When our enzymes don’t work optimally, our biochemistry doesn’t work optimally. So, what is one of the biggest biochemical processes that these SNPs affect? You guessed it …. Methylation!
To review in basic terms – because of our environment, our DNA is not getting translated correctly and we have developed errors in the enzymes that regulate methylation. When methylation goes awry, we can develop:
- Fibromyalgia/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Addictive Behavior (such as alcoholism)
- Autism or Down Syndrome
- Frequent miscarriages
- Bipolar or manic depression
- Allergies and/or chemical sensitivities
- Spina Bifida, cleft palate, and/or neural tube defects
- Autoimmune Disorders
- Hashimoto’s or Hypothyroidism
- ADD or ADHD
- Chronic viral infections
- …. and more!
This is the connection between how we feel and our biochemistry. If we are not methylating correctly, our body will not be able to produce our neurotransmitters in adequate amounts and we will feel depressed or anxious.
Have you ever had the experience of feeling depressed or anxious, but when you try to think of a reason you feel that way, you can’t come up with one? Or another scenario: if we feel anxious, our brain looks for a reason why we are feeling that way. We assume it must be our job, our kids, our spouse … etc. Or maybe we have felt that way our whole life and we just assume that is the way we are supposed to feel? In reality, it’s our neurochemistry that is altered and has influenced how we perceive the world.
Dr. William Walsh, one of the foremost experts in methylation, has reported some interesting statistics based on his 30 years of experience.
98% of people with autism are under-methylated
95% of people with anti-social personality disorder (“sociopaths”) are under-methylated
90% of people with schizoaffective disorder are under-methylated
85% of people with oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) are under-methylated
82% of people with anorexia are under-methylated
38% of people with depression are under-methylated
64% of people with panic attacks are over-methylated
52% of people with paranoid schizophrenia are over-methylated
28% of people with ADHD are over-methylated
23% of people with behavior disorders are over-methylated
18% of people with depression are over-methylated
Up to this point, I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture. If it is epigenetic changes that make us the way we are, do we have the ability to ever get well? YES!! This is the punch line of the whole article …. Remember when I said that when we have SNPs (small errors) in our enzymes it decreases the function of those enzymes and that is what changes our biochemistry (i.e. under-methylated or over-methylated)? Well, those enzymes have co-factors that help them work more efficiently. Those co-factors can, essentially, help make up for the weaknesses in those enzymes. What are co-factors, you ask? NUTRIENTS!! All of the vitamins and minerals we take act as co-factors for our enzymes and make them work better!
Therefore, depression is not a Prozac deficiency, but rather a lack of key nutrients. Taking drugs does not address the root cause of the issue. By taking the right nutrients, in the right doses, you can affect your biochemistry and help prevent or lessen the symptoms of all of the conditions listed above. The key is: knowing which nutrients you need and taking them in the right doses to balance your methylation.
Some of the most important nutrients to do this are: magnesium, B12, B6, zinc, B9, selenium, glutathione, phosphatydlserine, phosphatydlcholine, taurine and methionine. However, as I mentioned, the key is balance. Not everyone needs all of these nutrients, and, if taken incorrectly, they can actually do more harm than good.
To be able to properly balance your methylation, it is recommended that you test for your individual SNPs through a screening test (such as a 23andMe genetic test) as well as test your individual nutrient levels (such as the Methylation Panel through the BioCenter Laboratory) and then consult with a doctor who can help walk you through the process of replenishing the correct nutrients.
There is hope for feeling better without drugs! It just takes the right nutrients in the right doses to make it happen.
If you are interested in the topic of methylation, join Dr. Ron Hunninghake and Dr. Anne Zauderer for a FREE lunch and lecture on November 16 at noon. Please email email@example.com or call 316.682.3100 to reserve your spot today!