The term methylation has been forefront in the nutrition and functional medicine arenas in the last few years. Methylation is not only an important component of cell repair and detoxification, it can also majorly affect histamine levels. How does that work? Well, this normal process helps determine how well the body is able to break down substances produced internally or taken in from food or the environment. If methylation isn’t working well due to certain genetics (MTHFR mutation, for example), we don’t have enough methyl groups to bind to a receptor site on a substance like histamine. As a result, we tend to build up “stuff” –including histamine– which causes an overload. Cue: Histamine Intolerance. Read on to learn some food and lifestyle ideas for supporting methylation.
A BRIEF (AND BASIC) OVERVIEW ON METHYLATION
Methylation is the process of adding a methyl group (1 carbon + 3 hydrogens) to a compound in your body, resulting in a specific action. Genetic variants, otherwise known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced “snips”) can cause the MTHFR (methyltetrahydrofolate reductase) gene, the one that is responsible for methylation, to not work as well. This can cause a person to not be able to detoxify as well or to not repair as well. It also makes a person have a hard time breaking down folate from foods and converting it to the active (useful) form. FYI: Low folate levels can raise homocysteine levels and your risk for chronic health issues like cardiovascular disease and cancer.
It can work (or not work) the same way for histamine. Methyl groups are supposed to bind to a receptor site on a substance like histamine. That causes it to rapidly break down and be taken out of the body. Without enough methyl groups, histamine doesn’t get broken down very well. As we now know, histamine is a natural substance in our bodies which is a part of our immune response as well as a neurotransmitter for our brains. We do actually need it. It only becomes a problem when it doesn’t get broken down, and high levels accumulate in the body. That’s when the bucket overflows and we get symptoms.
FOODS TO SUPPORT METHYLATION
There are certain (low histamine) foods that are able to help support and balance methylation in the body. Dr. Michael Stone, out of Oregon, calls them “methylation adaptogens.” Many of those methylation adaptogens just happen to show up in large amounts in a nutrient-dense antihistamine diet: Curcumin (from turmeric), quercetin (red onions), sulforaphane (broccoli), luteolin (chamomile), lutein (kale) and rosmarinic acid (rosemary).
Green leafy vegetables are especially important to include, as they help get your daily intake of naturally-occurring folate –rather than folic acid, which you’re going to have difficulty breaking down if you have the MTHFR mutation. Folate from greens helps to keep your homocysteine levels low — decreasing your risk for cardiovascular disease. Try low oxalate, low histamine greens like bok choy, lettuce, green/white cabbage, napa cabbage, turnip greens, arugula, lacinato (“dinosaur”) kale, kohlrabi leaves, and watercress.
LIFESTYLE TO SUPPORT METHYLATION
Studies have shown that chronic or traumatic stress may cause negative changes in a person’s methylation ability. So, in general, a low-stress lifestyle that supports detoxification is going to go a long way in promoting balanced methylation and lower levels of histamine. Some of my favorite ways to lower stress include meditation, visualization, and yoga (pranayama). Gratitude also lowers stress levels. Try starting a daily gratitude journal and find things to be happy and grateful for. You’ll be amazed at how your stress and worries melt away.
Some strategies for helping the body detoxify more effectively include the use of a sauna (I like Sunlighten Infrared Sauna), dry skin brushing, aerobic exercise, Epsom salt baths, and juicing. Check out my cookbook, The Anti-Detox, which is full of liquid recipes incorporating plenty of leafy greens (there are lower oxalate subs as well) which help support detoxification with plenty of easy-to-digest plant foods. And of course pay a visit to Dr. Ben Lynch at MTHFR.net.
SUPPORT METHYLATION WITH A COMPLETE RESET
If you’ve found your have some methylation SNPs or feel like your body isn’t responding to food or toxins like it should, check out my 28 Day Histamine Reset. Plenty of methylation-supporting nutrients are found throughout the Reset recipes. These nutrients, along with a balanced and healthy lifestyle, will help you get your body on track toward optimal health and energy.
——— REFERENCES ———
- Matosin, N., Cruceanu, C., & Binder, E. B. (2017). Preclinical and Clinical Evidence of DNA Methylation Changes in Response to Trauma and Chronic Stress. Chronic Stress (Thousand Oaks, Calif.), 1, 10.1177/2470547017710764. http://doi.org/10.1177/2470547017710764
- Reilly, R., McNulty, H, Pentieva, K, Strain, J. J., Ward, M. (2014). MTHFR 677TT genotype and disease risk: is there a modulating role for B-vitamins? The Proceedings of The Nutrition Society. 73(1):47-56. doi: 10.1017/S0029665113003613. Epub 2013 Oct 17.
- Zhang, D., Wen, X., Wu, W., Guo, Y., & Cui, W. (2015). Elevated Homocysteine Level and Folate Deficiency Associated with Increased Overall Risk of Carcinogenesis: Meta-Analysis of 83 Case-Control Studies Involving 35,758 Individuals. PLoS ONE, 10(5), e0123423. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0123423