Before we get started, this isn’t going to be an extended endorsement of the paleo diet. While the benefits of removing contaminated mass produced modern foods are myriad, they will not be the focus of this post.
Remember when we talked about methylation? It’s the process by which your body modifies portions of your DNA to change how they are expressed. Effectively, it’s the workhorse of how epigenetic effects. Research has shown that lack of methylation can cause a number of problems with health. Animal studies have shown that a lack of the nutrients needed to methylate certain portions of the DNA can cause a lifetime of under methylation. And while the link between cancer and epigenetics is still an emerging field, many tumors have much lower levels of DNA methylation than healthy cells.
In summary, your body needs to be able to methylate to regulate your own DNA properly. And in order to do that, you need to provide the nutrients it needs.
Eating for methylation
In order to select which foods to eat, the process of methylation needs to be understood. On the most basic level we are looking for nutrients which act as a methyl donor, able to give a methyl group to DNA that needs to be modified. There are
a number of nutrients which can accelerate this basic pathway.
Methionine – Our old friend, the amino acid methionine plays a key process in methylation of DNA. It is the precursor to SAM (s-adenosyl methionine) which transfers methyl groups directly to the DNA. Good sources of methionine include eggs, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, and meat.
B-Vitamins – A number of B vitamins play a key role in transformation of methionine into SAM. B6, B9 and B12 in particular are important. In addition, these vitamins are vital to preventing the potentially harmful rise in homocysteine that might come from eating elevated levels of methionine.
Choline -Choline acts as a methyl donor to SAM which in turn donates methyl groups to DNA. It also happens to be deficient in a number of individual based on the recommendation of mainstream nutritionists. Only 2% of post menopausal women were found to be consuming a sufficient amount of choline in a recent study. The best sources of choline include liver, fatty meats and egg yolks.
Butyrate/Butryic Acid – Taking a slight detour from the methylation pathway, Butryric acid increases epigenetic expression at the histone level. It has been shown to have a positive effect in certain forms of cancer, further supporting the benefits of epigenetic effects. Butyric Acid can either be found in food sources such as butter and fatty meat, or synthesized within the gut. When gut flora comes into contact with fiber from whole fruits and vegetables, it is converted into butyric acid.