The way that we live changes our health at every level, including affecting gene expression through epigenetics. (For a review of this topic, start with my first post on Immunity + Methylation).
Lifestyle influences have a wide variety of important effects on gene expression. Of these, one of the most important relates to immunity. By altering gene pathways involved in the immune system, our daily choices majorly impact our current and long-term health.
Build the Right Immunity Team
Imagine a football team that has 2 offensive linemen, 25 defensive tackles, and no quarterback. It’s unlikely that such a team could ever make it to the playoffs.
Our immune system has just this predicament as we age. Immune cells may be performing well individually, but often the team is poorly composed. So who’s in charge of managing the team? It turns out that methylation actually plays a big role. Epigenetic markings on our genes (methylation) help to direct the makeup of the immunity team and even its overall strategy.
We have many different kinds of immune cells, each specializing in offense, defense, strategy, clean-up, repair, or memory. The balance of your immune team affects how likely you are to get allergies, cancer, and autoimmune conditions. And while all body cells age, immune cells age especially rapidly, because our lives tend to keep them quite busy.
Aging upsets the ideal balance among immune cells, and this tendency leaves us more prone to inflammation and infection as we get older. And since immune regulation affects the way your entire body ages, an aging immune system can further accelerate body aging. The quality of methylation can help explain why some older people are vital and springy and why some younger individuals seem to lose their glow.
Touch Up Your Methylation Portrait
Methylation is tightly woven into aging, immunity, and heart and brain health. But remember — it happens as a result of events in your life. We each have considerable control over our methylation pattern through how we live.
Here are a few ways to touch up your genetic methylation portrait:
- Nutrition is a biggie. We need certain nutrients for methylation, especially B vitamins. But it’s not as simple as taking a multivitamin, because your body prefers — in some cases, requires — the active forms of vitamins, which are rare in most supplements. Examples include folate in the form of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (called MTHF), B12 as methylcobalamin, and S-adenosyl-methionine. Choline, riboflavin, betaine, zinc, niacin, vitamins A, C, D, and plant nutrients like curcumin (from turmeric) and EGCG (from green tea) also chip in to aid healthy methylation.
- Though these nutrients are crucial for methylation, more is not always better. Foods that are good sources of the active forms of nutrients include beets, dark leafy greens, liver, cruciferous veggies, eggs, turmeric, and green tea. Vegans and vegetarians may wish to consider high-quality supplements to ensure that they receive enough choline and vitamin B12.
- Minimizing spikes in blood sugar helps methylation keep an even keel, so limiting sweets and cutting out nighttime eating can make a positive difference.
- Your stress response and methylation have to share those crucial methyl groups, which are additionally needed for best liver function. Having an effective stress management system — through social contacts, regular physical activity, quality sleep, and nature and quiet time — is key for making sure you have plenty of those methyls when you need them.
For a Deeper Dive
For the current scoop on how methylation affects aging right at the DNA level, check out this news story on a study carried out by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald and team. Just 8 weeks of lifestyle focus on methylation made a big difference for study volunteers. We’re also excited to see Dr. Fitzgerald mentioning Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat as one of her favorite healthy methylation foods on Instagram recently (check the comments).