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Healthy Methylation Is Like A Symphony, Says This PhD Nutritionist & Musician

Image by Magida El-Kassis / Stocksy
March 26, 2022

Methylation is a vital biochemical process that affects every cell in the body. It supports cardiovascular and cognitive function, energy and DNA production, detoxification pathways, and more. However, due to its vast impact on whole-body health, methylation can be quite difficult to comprehend or explain (even for a team of health editors!). 

The thing is, 50% of the U.S. population has a gene variant that makes their MTHFR enzyme work less efficiently, which means they're more likely to experience suboptimal methylation at some point in their life. Many of these individuals want to understand the ins and outs of methylation so they can know exactly how to promote healthy methylation cycles and overall well-being.

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To help explain how methylation and the MTHFR gene work, mbg's VP of scientific affairs, music lover, and musician (pianist) Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, came up with a fun analogy that will help us understand the methylation cycle more comprehensively. So, if you'll please take your seat and silence your cellphones, the show is about to begin. 

Methylation is a beautiful symphony.

A symphony is a long, complex musical composition that is meant to be played by an orchestra. Like methylation, symphonies are elaborate and involve many different skilled musicians that need to work synchronistically, in tune, and full out to play this beautiful piece of music as the composer intended it.

The orchestra.

A symphony orchestra is a large group of up to 100 musicians that make up different sections, each playing a different type of instrument (i.e., string, woodwind, brass, and percussion).

Imagine each section of the orchestra plays a different part of the folate and methionine cycles that ultimately produce methylation. "While each musician and section has specific notes and rhythms to play and a unique sound and timbre to create, they all work together to holistically create a lovely piece of music," explains Ferira. That's our symphony, aka methylation.

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The string section.

String instruments include violins, violas, cellos, and double basses. These players make up more than half of the orchestra. "I love strings because they produce gorgeous backdrop harmonies and stunning melodies, too. They are foundational in most orchestral pieces," Ferira says.

The sound of each string instrument on its own is lovely, but when they play together, they are definitely additive, creating a full, and splendid sound. Due to their importance in the success of most every symphony, we can imagine the string section is the MTHFR gene. 

The woodwind section.

Woodwind instruments include clarinets, oboes, flutes, and bassoons. We can think of this section as the folate cycle, because woodwind instruments add volume and provide additional musical lines to complement the string section, just like the folate cycle and MTHFR enzyme hum along to create the active version of folate (5-MTHF).

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The brass section. 

Brass instruments include trumpets, trombones, tubas, and horns. The sounds that project from the brass section can be best described as bright and piercing, which is why they make a great representation of the methionine cycle.

Like the energetic brass instruments in an orchestra, the amino acid homocysteine is actively transformed (with the critical help of active 5-MTHF folate) into the amino acid methionine.* Ferira shares, "This junction is a climax in the methionine cycle, much like a brass instrument such as the trumpet might confidently call out with a bold musical motif, signifying a turning point or climax of the symphony."

Indeed, this homocysteine-to-methionine conversion is the central, climactic theme in a healthy methionine cycle that goes on to fuel SAM-e and ultimately methylation in every cell. 

The percussion section.

Percussion instruments include a variety of drums, tympani, marimba, xylophones, gongs, chimes, tambourines, triangles, and more (even the piano!). To play percussion instruments well, precision is key.

"Executing complex rhythms is a nonnegotiable skill for percussionists," emphasizes Ferira. "Can you imagine a percussionist with no rhythm? It's funny." In stark contrast, "a methylation cycle that's off beat? Not funny at all."

In the symphony that is methylation, our percussion section delivers a precise, targeted set of instruments or tools that facilitate that critical, underlying rhythm. "These tools keep the tempo at all the critical intersections of the folate and methionine cycles. Our internal metronome, if you will," says Ferira.

In methylation, our percussion represents a specific array of bioactive B vitamins (methylfolate 5-MTHF, riboflavin, B6, and B12) and betaine, that enable our folate and methionine cycles to run on time and smoothly.* They are keeping the beat so the rest of the orchestra can synchronize too.

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Making sure your orchestra stays on the beat.

While all players are important in a symphony, just as all parts of the methylation cycle are essential, remember that the string section (aka the MTHFR gene) is fundamental. So what would happen if, say, half or more of this foundational string section were off the beat?

"Imagine their rhythm is off," Ferira explains. "Try as the strings may to pluck along or play with their bows, their timing is off, and thus, they can't achieve the intended collective sound to support the other sections of the orchestra (folate and methionine cycles) and achieve the beautiful, optimized symphony (methylation)." Sure, some of the string instrumentalists will be able to perform fully and on the beat, but the others playing off beat are competing with the overall balance, and the musical piece doesn't sound like it should. How could it?

This is what occurs when an individual has an MTHFR gene variation. "Depending on the individual's MTHFR variant(s), more or less of the string section—those violinists, violists, cellists, and bassists—might be off the beat (up to 70%)," Ferira notes. 

If the orchestra isn't operating at optimum efficiency because of the MTHFR gene variant (i.e., striking the wrong rhythm), the music simply can't progress as it's written. The brass section may even ring out loudly signaling that homocysteine levels are rising. This is overpowering the rest of the orchestra, which clearly needs a reset. But as Ferira explains, "Thankfully, the conductor cues the percussion section to enter just in time, and they drop the correct beat."

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Restoring the rhythm of your methylation symphony.

If you have an MTHFR gene variant, you can ensure your string section is keeping time and not getting off beat by taking mbg's methylation support+ daily.* It's your pivotal percussion section. This gene-focused, precision nutrition solution promotes the best orchestral sound and rhythm for a full-on, beautiful symphony—i.e., methylation function and all the health actions that go along with it.*

In other words, you can play as the composer intended the musical piece to be played. Bravo!

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.
Morgan Chamberlain
Morgan Chamberlain
mbg Supplement Editor

Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.