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Methylation Autoimmune Disease and Chronic Illness

Further to my recent articles on inflammation and chronic illness, many of my regular readers have been asking me about the term “Methylation”. Seems folks are a bit confused as to what it is and what it affects within the body and just what role it plays when we are talking about inflammation and chronic disease as well as autoimmune diseases. Methylation is the new term being thrown around in the health industry lately and for good reason. It’s a biochemical process involved in almost all of your body’s functions! Perhaps even one of the most important and one that relates to people suffering from chronic or autoimmune diseases particularly.

What is Methylation?

Without getting too technical and sciencey and boring everyone to sleep, methylation is the addition of a single carbon and three hydrogen atoms (commonly called a methyl group) to another molecule. The removal of a methyl group is called demethylation. Think of it like billions of little on/off switches inside your body that control everything from your stress response and how your body makes energy from food, to your brain chemistry and detoxification. That’s methylation and demethylation. In people suffering from chronic disease and particularly autoimmune conditions, this process is impaired in some way and it is often at the root of these types of problems.

Methyl groups control:

  • The stress (fight-or-flight) response
  • The production and recycling of glutathione — the body’s master antioxidant
  • The detoxification of hormones, chemicals and heavy metals
  • The inflammation response
  • Genetic expression and the repair of DNA
  • Neurotransmitters and the balancing of brain chemistry
  • Energy production
  • The repair of cells damaged by free radicals
  • The immune response, controlling T-cell production, fighting infections and viruses and regulating the immune response

If you have a shortage of methyl groups, or your methylation cycle is interrupted, any or all of these processes can become compromised, and you could get sick. Research has clearly linked impaired methylation with autoimmune conditions.

Methylation and Glutathione.

GlutathioneImproving methylation is important for the well being of everyone, but it’s particularly important if you suffer from an autoimmune condition. One of the reasons is the role of methylation in the production and recycling of glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant and master “free radical” remover. Glutathione directly neutralizes free radicals, reduces inflammation and assists in the role of other antioxidants like vitamin C, E and lipoic acid doing their jobs effectively.

Glutathione contains sulfur groups, which are sticky compounds that adhere to toxins and heavy metals and then carry them out of the body. This is a good thing and you want lots of it happening otherwise you become a toxic waste dump! I haven’t encountered anyone with any type of autoimmune condition that has adequate methylation and levels of glutathione. These are usually my first considerations when helping them to recover.

In a perfect world, your body makes its own glutathione from the essential amino acids cysteine, glycine and glutamine, then recycles it via methylation using methyl donors like vitamin B12, folate, betaine and other nutrients. Under normal conditions, your body makes and recycles enough glutathione to handle all the toxins that you’re exposed to. However, if you have a high toxic body burden, or a part of the methylation cycle is disrupted, you can get very sick.

How To Improve Methylation

Below are a few general tips to improve your methylation pathways. If you feel you may have a problem with methylation or suffer from a chronic illness or autoimmune condition, then there are more specific steps to take and these are best handled by a professional via a consultation with your naturopath or similar health professional.
1. Eat healing greens. Eating dark leafy green veggies daily provides you with natural folate (a methyl donor), necessary for proper methylation. Make sure to get a minimum of two cups of these healing foods daily. Examples include spinach, chard, kale.

2. Get B vitamins and folate. B vitamins are methyl donors, especially folate, B6, B12 and riboflavin. Sources of B vitamins include fish, eggs, dark leafy greens, asparagus, almonds, sunflower seeds and walnuts.

3. Support methylation with supplements. Make sure you get adequate amounts of glutathione, magnesium and zinc, which support methylation.

4. Take probiotics. Remember, the good bugs help produce and absorb B vitamins and folate. Gut health is paramount for inflammation reduction and for many people suffering from chronic disease and autoimmune conditions; leaky gut is a related issue so gut health is very important!

5. Reduce stress, booze, smoking and toxins. These toxins burden your liver and use up methyl groups. Really, if you want to recover and improve your well being, these are an obvious thing to eliminate altogether.

How To Boost Your Glutathione

In addition to making sure your methylation is operating at full capacity, you can increase your glutathione levels using these methods.

1. Eat healing proteins. Eating foods that are high in the glutathione precursors — cysteine, glycine and glutamate — will boost your glutathione. Sources of these important amino acids include organic omega-3 enriched eggs, safe fish and organic lean meats.

2. Eat sulfurous foods. Sulfur is a key component of glutathione, so eating enough sulfur-containing foods is vital. Sources include garlic, onions and cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, watercress and bok choy. Personally I avoid onions and garlic as they tend to create bloating and cramping in the bowel and tend to go more for broccoli, cauliflower from the cruciferous family of vegetables.

3. Take protein powder. My prefered types of protein to use are hemp, pea or rice protein powder. Take one or two scoops of protein powder per day in water, juice or smoothie. These are all very bio-available and rich in all essential amino acids as well as glutamine. They are easily digested and generally have a more alkaline pH when metabolized.

4. Take selenium. Selenium plays an important role in the production of glutathione. Take 200 to 400 mcg per day.

5. Optimize your antioxidants. Vitamins C, D and E all encourage higher glutathione levels.

6. Move your body. Besides reducing stress and depression, exercise also boosts your glutathione levels and improves detoxification.

7. Get enough sleep. Studies show that lack of sleep can deplete glutathione. Make sure you get between seven and 10 hours of sleep nightly.

8. Take herbs to support glutathione. Studies show that milk thistle can boost glutathione levels. Take 100 to 300 mg daily.

9. Spice it up. Curcurmin raises glutathione levels in the liver — one more good reason to use this anti-inflammatory spice! Or, you can take a curcurmin supplement.

10. Supplement Glutathione. In more severe cases a glutathione supplement can be given but this is best done via the guidance of your naturopath or similar health professional.

Avoiding toxins, lowering your stress, healing your GI and consuming foods and supplements that support methylation and glutathione can enhance your body’s ability to naturally detoxify and heal. More often than not, just following guidelines like these ones can offer some genuine relief from your autoimmune condition and help keep you healthy and vibrant for life. But, when doing everything “right” is still not enough to improve your autoimmune symptoms, it is time to consult a qualified practitioner who can order functional testing and guide you through the healing process.

Hope this helps you out folks and helps you to understand this term and how it relates to your well being.

Until next time, be well, naturally.


Craig Hitchens – Natural Health Practitioner



Bioceuticals Practitioner Education;

My own clinical knowledge.


Alternative & Natural Health Disclaimer:

The information contained in this article is accurate at the time of posting but may change thereafter. The information provided on the various natural health subjects from this website of is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as any form of medical advice. The information in the article this disclaimer is linked from is not meant to treat, diagnose, prescribe or cure any ailment. Always check with your health professional before taking any products or following any advice that you believe may conflict with other forms of health care. Always consult your health care professional before you start, stop or change anything that has been previously prescribed. Certain herbs and holistic remedies are unsuitable to take if you are pregnant or nursing and must always be cleared by your health professional before use.

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