Biomedical treatment relies heavily on methylation biochemistry for its success. Some of you may be familiar with methylation and the role it plays in autism, ADHD and Down Syndrome. For some, methylation may be a new term. The important thing to know is that if you have a child with suspected or diagnosed autism spectrum disorder, you need to be helping to repair their methylation cycle in as many ways as possible. Are you currently giving your child B12 injections? If so, you are supporting methylation but there a dozens of ways for you to add to the methyl B12 injection benefit. So come take a roller coaster ride with me through the ups and downs and loopty loops of methylation.
What is methylation biochemistry, you ask?
Women take folic acid when they are pregnant because the folate cycle is responsible for making all the cells in the body. Women who have folate cycle impairments are 4.7 times as likely to have a child diagnosed with ASD. Before you cringe (mom), these methylation and folate cycle issues can be caused by epigenetic damage. So, if your grandmother smoked or ate tuna filled with mercury, your child could have an increased risk of a neurodevelopmental disorder. Back to methylation…
Directly next to the folate cycle is the methylation cycle. Ninety percent of children diagnosed with autism have demonstrated methylation impairment. Metals like lead and mercury can further damage the body’s ability to methylate DNA. Methylation IS the process of development. When babies are conceived, they are not methylated. Healthy methylation = healthy, neurotypical children. Impaired methylation leads to increased risk of tongue ties, birth defects, speech delay, autism, ADHD etc.
Methylation is needed for:
- RNA and DNA (genetic material responsible for every function in the body)
- Immune system regulation
- Detoxification of heavy metals and other harmful substances
- Making GLUTATHIONE (the body’s main detoxification enzyme responsible for removing mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, nickel, tin, aluminum and antimony)
- Production and function of proteins
- Regulating inflammation
- Making neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine
- Producing melatonin, CoQ10, carnitine, creatine, and choline
Now that we understand the importance of methylation, let’s look at how you can (AND NEED) to support your child.
Methyl B12 injections
- Has your child benefitted from B12 injections? In my practice, 92% of children respond to injection therapy. Research from the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute has shown that methyl B12, when injected helps to support methylation and production of glutathione. If your child has benefited, make sure to read through the other supports listed below. If your child has NOT benefited after trying B12 injections, the three most common reasons are elevated levels of heavy metals, the wrong diet and/or low level viral infection.
- The diet that best supports the methylation cycle is the “paleo” diet. Meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. Meat should be hormone and antibiotic free. Vegetables and fruit should be organic whenever possible. The methylation cycle helps the body detoxify harmful chemicals like PCBs found in pesticides. Reducing the body’s overall toxic load help to repair the methylation cycle. Grains are fortified with synthetic folic acid. Folic acid sounds important to the folate cycle, doesn’t it? The problem is that children diagnosed with autism often (40-70% of the time) have trouble converting synthetic folic acid to methyl folate which is needed to “spin” the methylation wheel and help to make glutathione.
- Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant. Depletion of up to 80% has been linked to ASD. One of the most important jobs of the methylation cycle is to produce glutathione which detoxifies metals, chemicals and hormones. Glutathione is needed to protect the brain from toxicity and is, in fact, the rate limiting step to a child’s development. A child’s brain can only develop as far as their glutathione will take them.
- Most biomedical parents would agree that one of the hardest parts of treatment is “the diet”. Take population of kids who have sensory issues around food, and add in dysregulated dopamine which contributes to food addiction. Now try to remove foods that children are using to help calm an overly stressed brain. The problem with carbohydrates, dairy and sugar are that they help kids feel good, but it is short term and short lived… leading to the next craving cycle. It is crucial to interrupt this cycle that is toxic to the brain. Many studies have shown that carbohydrate restriction helps improve brain function. Ask Dr. Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain, if you don’t believe me! So… why NO GRAINS!!!!???? Grains are fortified with synthetic folic acid which dramatically slows down the brains ability to heal from damage or inflammation.
- If you picture the folate cycle, snuggled up to the methylation cycle, you can imagine that any influx of methyl donors could be beneficial. Adding additional methyl folate to a child’s treatment protocol helps in a number of different ways. The methyl group from methyl folate is given to SAMe, whose job it is to deliver methyl to 200 essential pathways in the body. Methyl folate is also very important in treating children who have been diagnosed with Cerebral Folate Deficiency, a cause of autism spectrum disorder and seizures.
- SAMe is what I like to call a worker bee. After receiving methyl donors, SAMe delivers methyl to 200 pathways in the body including ones needed to make carnitine, creatine and phosphotidylcholine.Low carnitine levels have been identified in children diagnosed with autism. Carnitine supplementation improves delivery of omega 3 & 6 fatty acids needed to support language, social and cognitive development. Phosphatidylcholine is important in cell membrane health and repair. Toxins can damage the cell membrane, which contributes to inflammation as it is broken down. Repair of the cell membrane is an important part of improving sensory issues and motor planning issues in children with autism, ADHD and sensory integration disorder.
DMG and TMG
- Dimethylglycine (DMG) and trimethylglycine (TMG) donate methyl groups to the methylation cycle. TMG is needed to recycle homocysteine and help produce SAMe. If DMG is beneficial for your child, note that long term use will slow methylation. After a period of DMG supplementation, it is important to start using TMG and SAMe to optimize this vital cycle needed for neurological health.
Dr. Sonya Doherty, ND, MAPS Candiate