Enhance Your DNA Methylation and Age Better with Folate, B-12 and More

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enhance your DNA methylation
Many of our biological processes become imparied as we age, and that's true of our DNA methylation function. As I'll describe, proper DNA methylation is essential to life. When it's impaired, so is our health. You simply can't enjoy a robust, long healthspan without robust methylation.

Here's what I'm going to cover:

  • What is DNA methylation and why it matters.
  • Do you have the MTHFR polymorphism?
  • What you can do to support your DNA methylation cycle.

Let's dig in...

What is DNA Methylation and Why It Matters

DNA methylation matter 

The simple reason that DNA methylation matters is that it's essential for life. Methylation is a vital metabolic process that happens in every cell and every organ of our body. Life would simply not exist without it. Methylation occurs in your body more than a billion times per second.

Cell division, DNA and RNA synthesis, early central nervous system development, gene expression, immune cell differentiation, post-transcriptional modification, neurotransmitter synthesis and metabolism, histamine clearance, detoxification, hormone clearance, cellular energy metabolism, and more, are all dependent on methylation. [1]

Methylation is a simple biochemical process whereby four atoms - one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms (CH3) - transfer from one substance to another. When optimal methylation occurs, it has a significant, positive impact on many biochemical reactions in the body, as it can modify the function of the genes and affect gene expression (which genes are turned off and on).

Given this potential effect on gene expression, methylation is one example among the many mechanisms of epigenetics. Epigenetics refers to inheritable changes in your DNA that don't change the actual DNA sequence, which means these changes are potentially reversible.

Scientists are currently working to better understand the factors that affect DNA methylation. Based on their early findings, there's some evidence that diet plays a role. This opens up the potential to reduce genetic risk of developing certain conditions, such as breast cancer or heart disease, through simple lifestyle changes.

Unfortunately, like so many of our biological systems, our capacity for proper DNA methylation weakens as we get older.

According to a 2012 study, people over the age of 100 had less methylated DNA than newborns. People around the age of 26 had methylated DNA levels between those of newborns and centenarians, suggesting that DNA methylation slows down as you age. As a result, genes that were once repressed by methylated DNA start to become active, possible resulting in a variety of diseases. The studies authors concluded:

"Our results demonstrate that the DNA methylomes at the two extremes of the human lifespan are distinct."

That underscores what I just said - the older we get, the weaker our methylation capacity. If that wasn't enough, there's that issue of a MTHFR polymorphism, which I'll discuss in a moment, but first to explain methylation further and to set up the rest of this article, let's watch what medical doctor Mark Hyman's explanation of what it is and why it's so important:

Do You Have the MTHFR Polymorphism?

proper DNA methylation reduces unhealthy gene mutations

No, it's not a curse word, rather a MTHFR polymorphism is a mutation of a gene that provides the body with instructions for making a certain enzyme called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. "MTHFR" is the shortened name for this enzyme. [2]

According to Dr. Will Cole, 40% of the human population has this polymorphism, which can result in a variety of symptoms and diseases. One example is elevated levels of homocysteine (a type of amino acid), which can cause damage to arteries.

There are plenty of other examples of how MTHFR polymorphism can potentially affect your health. Dr. Cole says that research shows an association between MTHFR mutations and the following health issues (among others):

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Cardiovascular and thromboembolic diseases (specifically blood clots, stroke, embolism, and heart attacks)
  • Chronic pain and fatigue
  • Colitis
  • Colon cancer
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia

Without getting tested how would you know if you if you have this gene mutation? Really, you can't know for sure, but the symptoms are consistent with the health issues listed above.

Of course having or not having a particular symptoms is insufficient to substantiate a MTHFR polymorphism that impacts your DNA methylation, so it makes sense to also examine your nutrition to see if you're lacking important nutrients that support robust methylation function, the topic of the next section.

What You Can Do To Support Your DNA Methylation Cycle

support DNA methylation with B-12 and folate supplements

While the relationship between diet and DNA methylation needs more scientific inquiry, nutrition does seem to play a role. In fact, another study published in 2012 said that nutrient deficiency is one of the primary causes of impaired methylation.

The two most important nutrients in methylation pathways are B12 and folate, but other nutrients such as methionine, cysteine, taurine, DHA, zinc, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, betaine, choline, and sulfur also play a role. Inadequate intake of any of these nutrients can impair methylation.

Foods high in these methylation-supporting nutrients include beets, spinach, mushrooms, eggs, organ meats, and shellfish. These foods can be backed up by folate, vitamin B-12 and B-6, and to a lesser extent, choline supplementation.


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that adults consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate per day. Women who are pregnant or nursing should consume closer to 600 mcg.

Good sources of folate include: [3]

  • Dark, leafy vegetables, such as spinach or mustard greens
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Nuts and beans, such as peanuts and kidney beans
  • Whole grains
  • Citrus fruit, such as oranges or grapefruit

Whatever you do, don't supplement with folic acid! Folic acid is not folate. Folic acid refers to the oxidized synthetic compound used in many dietary supplements, whereas folate refers to the various tetrahydrofolate derivatives naturally found in food and in some supplements list "5-methyltetrahydrofolate" or "5-MTHF" on the label, such as ProHealth's Methyl Folate L-5-MTHF.

One big reason I discourage the consumption of folic acid is its association with cancer. In his review of folic acid versus folate, integrative medicine expert Chris Kresser refers to a few studies that associate folic acid with an increased incidence of cancer. Researchers have hypothesized that the excessive consumption of folic acid in fortified foods may be directly related to the increase in cancer rates. [4]

Excess folic acid may stimulate the growth of established neoplasms, which can eventually lead to cancer. The presence of unmetabolized folic acid in the blood is associated with decreased natural killer cytotoxicity. [5] Since natural killer cells play a role in tumor cell destruction, this would suggest another way in which excess folic acid might promote existing pre-malignant and malignant lesions.

In a study in Norway of patients with ischemic heart disease, treatment with folic acid was associated with increased cancer outcomes and all-cause mortality. In the United States, Canada, and Chile, the institution of a folic acid supplementation program was associated with an increased prevalence of colon cancer. [6] [7] A randomized control trial found that daily supplementation with one milligram of folic acid was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. [8]

The conclusion is clear:, supplement with folate, such as Methyl Folate L-5-MTHF, not folic acid.

Vitamin B-12

I have a personal story about vitamin b-12 that begins with my cold feet and ends with my warm feet.

I was going nuts trying to figure out why my feet would be cold irrespective of the ambient temperature. I thought that perhaps a poorly functioning thyroid might be the culprit, as both my mother and sister have been diagnosed with a slight form of hypothyroidism, but tests showed that mine was fine. Finally, my doctor tested me for B-12 and found that I was deficient in this crucial vitamin.

Not getting enough vitamin B-12, also known as cobalamin, may contribute to a feeling of coldness in hands and feet, and so it was with me. Taking one sublingual (under the tongue) tablet of ProHealth's Methyl B-12 has eliminated by cold feet symptoms, although this has yet to be tested in winter.

People are commonly deficient in vitamin B-12. As Dr. David Jockers reports, many researchers believe that the standard American tests that measure serum B-12 levels are far too low, particularly when compared to other populations. In America, the mark of a B-12 deficiency is a serum level below 200 pg/ml (145 pM). In Japan, a deficiency is found in levels under 550 pg/ml (400pM). Most B-12 researchers and advanced functional nutritionists agree with the Japanese model, says Dr. Jockers.

Research done through Tufts University Framingham Offspring Study has suggested that 40% of people between the ages of 26 and 83 have low-normal plasma B-12 levels. They found that 9% had an outright deficiency and 16% exhibited a "near deficiency." Many of these individuals were suffering from neurological symptoms. [9]

B-12 deficiency is present in close to 50% of people over 60 years of age. It's entirely possible that at least some of the symptoms we attribute to "normal" aging - such as memory loss, cognitive decline, decreased mobility, etc. - are at least in part caused by B-12 deficiency.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin B-12 for adults is 2.4 mcg. Food sources containing vitamin B-12 tend to be animal products, so if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, make sure to pay attention to your vitamin B-12 intake.

Food sources of vitamin B-12 include:

  • Meat, particularly beef liver
  • Fish or shellfish, particularly clams
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products, such as milk
  • Fortified cereals
  • Nutritional yeast

If you're seeking to minimize or eliminate the consumption of animal products, you may need to supplement with B-12.

Vitamin B-6

The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends that adults between the ages of 19 and 50 consume 1.3 milligrams (mg) of vitamin B-6 per day, while older adults should get slightly more.

Food sources of vitamin B-6 include:

  • Fish
  • Poultry, such as chicken, turkey, or duck
  • Organ meats, such as liver, kidney, or tongue
  • Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes
  • Non-citrus fruits, such as bananas

As mentioned above, those who eat no or little animal-based foods might consider supplementing with B-6 by taking a B-complex supplement.


The recommended daily dose of choline differs between adult men and women. Women should aim for 425 mg, while men should get 550 mg.

Foods that contain choline include:

  • Meat, especially beef and beef liver
  • Fish, such as salmon, scallops, and cod
  • Dairy products, including milk and cottage cheese
  • Wheat germ
  • Eggs
  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower

The recommended daily intake for choline is 425 milligrams for women, 450 for pregnant women, and 550 for men and breastfeeding women. A balanced diet should supply enough choline for most people, though strict vegetarians and older people tend to get less. Pregnant and nursing women should make sure they consume choline-rich foods.

You typically don't need supplements of choline or lecithin (a high source of choline). Very high doses can cause low blood pressure, nausea, gastrointestinal upset, abnormal results on liver function tests, and a fishy body odor. [10]

Foods that contain choline include:

  • Beef liver, beef and pork
  • Egg yolk
  • Chicken or turkey
  • Salmon or sardines
  • Broccoli or brussels sprouts
  • Soy milk
  • Cauliflower
  • Milk
  • Navy or baked beans
  • Wheat germ
  • Peanut butter

Your Takeaway

DNA methylation is a complex process that could hold major clues to health and aging, but many more large-scale human studies are needed to fully understand its effects.

To improve DNA methylation, you can start by adding a few key nutrients, such as folate, B vitamins, and choline, to your diet. Across several studies, these vitamins and nutrients appear to play a role in DNA methylation. As well, they'll also improve your overall health.

If you want to ensure that your DNA methylation functions as well as possible as you age, consider supplementing with good folate, methyl B-12 and complex Vitamin B products (which will take care of the B-6 requirement).

Show references
  1. https://kresserinstitute.com/treating-methylation-supplementing/
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK66131/
  3. https://chriskresser.com/folate-vs-folic-acid/
  4. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35874922/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/your-breakfast-giving-you-cancer/
  5. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/136/1/189.short
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19190501
  7. http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/16/7/1325.abstract
  8. https://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/101/6/432.full
  9. http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2000/000802.htm
  10. https://www.berkeleywellness.com/supplements/vitamins/article/should-you-boost-your-choline
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