I get a lot of questions about the methylation cycle and taking methylated folate. In articles and podcasts, I go into great detail about undermethylation. This causes a lot of confusion amongst patients because most providers don’t understand how methylated folate works. Folate is a wonderful vitamin for many people. But for undermethylators, folate can cause problems. Why is that? To understand the issue, we have to first understand more about methylation, DNA, and why genetic tests may not be the right approach.
Undermethylators is one of the primary subtypes described by the Walsh Protocol. To understand why folate is a problem for them though, we should discuss undermethylation.
To begin, let’s discuss what methylation is. Methylation is the process where DNA gets “tagged” by a small hydrocarbon group. Methyl is one carbon and three hydrogens. Carbon can bond to four different atoms so a methyl group has one spot that allows it to attach somewhere else. The body uses methyl in many different reactions and one of them is to turn off DNA.
How does it do this?
We don’t know the exact mechanism. It appears that the methyl group stops the DNA from turning on at particular locations. Methylation seems to be responsible for turning genes off. Acetylation (a different hydrocarbon) and folate are responsible for turning genes on. In some cases, the reverse is true but for now, let’s simply the thought process.
One gene methyl turns off is the serotonin reuptake gene. Folate or folic acid appears to turn this gene on. If you have too much serotonin reuptake happening, serontonin levels will be low. If you have too little, serotonin will be too high. (Yes, you can have too much serotonin in your body and some people do.)
Undermethylators are particularly vulnerable to folates. The folates turn on the serotonin reuptake gene that is already not downregulated due to the lack of methyl. For some people, they find that a sudden intake of folic acid causes a precipitous drop in mood or exacerbation of symptoms.
NOTE: If you are a pregnant woman, take your folate even if you’re an undermethylator.
What about Methylated Folate?
What about methylated folate? Isn’t that suppose to help undermethylators? Many providers prescribe it. A good number of patients have seen other providers that believe this. And why not? It was what we were taught in medical school. I was. But Dr. Walsh has shown something different. All folates including methyl folate probably cause a net reduction in methyl in the body. Couple that fact with how folic acid turns on the serotonin reuptake gene so that serotonin levels drop and you have a recipe for problems.
That all said, many undermethylators do show temporary improvement as a result of taking methylfolate. After two to three months, the person devolves again. The methyl donation from the methylfolate gets overshadowed by the effects of folate on the body. So the person gets worse.
This is when patients call me. Fortunately, it’s not too late to feel better under this circumstance. A proper treatment plan can benefit someone at any time. Undermethylators respond slowly; some people may not get a benefit for almost a year after treatment starts.
If you think you may be an undermethylator or overmethylator, call today to schedule an appointment. Let me review your medications and supplements to ensure you are taking what is right for your healing process.