Epigenetics refers to inheritable changes in your DNA that don’t change the actual DNA sequence, meaning that these changes are potentially reversible. DNA methylation is an example of one of the many mechanisms of epigenetics. Methylation alters expression of a gene during cell differentiation and causes a change that is heritable. (Cellular differentiation is the process in which a cell changes from one cell type to another. Usually, the cell changes to a more specialized type.)
Methylation is happening all over the body, all the time. Dr. Amy Nett a staff physician at the California Center for Functional Medicine said, “Methylation is essential for the optimal function of almost all your body systems. It occurs probably billions of times every second.”
When a methyl group attaches to a molecule, or is passed from one molecule to another, it acts like a kind of green traffic light causing the molecule to start doing its work.
When methylation is going well, the process helps repair your DNA, regulates hormones, produces energy, protects against cancer, supports detoxification, keeps your immune system healthy, supports the protective coating along your nerves, strengthens the nervous system and on and on and on.
DNA methylation often inhibits the expression of certain genes. For example, the methylation process might stop a tumor-causing gene from “turning on,” preventing cancer.
Experts 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.
The patterns of DNA methylation change throughout your life. The process occurs the most during the stages of early development and later life. A 2015 review found that DNA methylation patterns are constantly changing during fetal development. This allows all of the body’s organs and tissue to form properly.
A 2012 study broke down the relationship between DNA methylation and age. 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, possibly resulting in a variety of diseases.
A 2014 study looked at DNA methylation of tumor cells in women with breast cancer. The study’s investigators found that participants who consumed more alcohol were more likely to have decreased DNA methylation. In contrast, those who consumed a lot of folate were more likely to have increased methylation. These results support the idea that consuming certain nutrients affects DNA methylation.
Nutrients that may influence DNA methylation include:
- Folate helps the body make healthy red blood cells and is found in certain foods. Folic acid is used to: treat or prevent folate deficiency anemia. help your unborn baby’s brain, skull and spinal cord develop properly to avoid development problems.
- Vitamin B-12 is also known as cobalamin. It is a water-soluble vitamin involved in metabolism. It is a cofactor in DNA synthesis, in both fatty acid and amino acid metabolism.
- Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) is important for normal brain development and for keeping the nervous system and immune system healthy.
- Choline is a nutrient that is found in many foods. Your brain and nervous system need it to regulate memory, mood, muscle control, and other functions. You also need choline to form the membranes that surround your body’s cells.
- Methionine is an amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks that our bodies use to make proteins.
- Polyphenols are micronutrients that are naturally occurring in plants.
- Genistein is found in soy. It is a naturally occurring compound that structurally belongs to a class of compounds known as isoflavones.
People try to diagnose a genetic defect in their own methylation using genetic tests like 23andMe. Just because a genetic test shows you have a defect, it doesn’t mean you will have any symptoms or problems.
Dr. Amy Nett says “Genes give us information in terms of helping us know where to look for potential problems in the methylation cycle…but really it’s the lifestyle, diet and disease states that are probably more important in knowing how someone is actually methylating.”
Genetic testing sites only give us one side of the story, they don’t tell us whether or not methylation is occurring optimally within our bodies.
Testing your homocysteine level rather than genetic testing will give you a better idea of your methylation. Having a defect found with a test like 23andMe doesn’t mean you will have problems but an elevated homocysteine level can indicate methylation issues.
Fatigue is the most common symptom of problems with methylation. Other symptoms or conditions can include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Headaches (including migraines)
- Muscle pain
- Digestive issues
- Multiple miscarriages
Poor methylation can also increase your risk for conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, colon and lung cancer, birth defects, dementia, stroke and cardiovascular disease
Nutrition does seem to play a role. Most of the existing research suggests that DNA methylation relies at least in part on folate, vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, and choline, in addition to other vitamins and minerals.
Increasing your intake of these nutrients may help to support DNA methylation, preventing certain genes from being expressed. While all of these are available as dietary supplements, it’s best to get as much of them from food as possible.
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:
- dark, leafy vegetables, such as spinach or mustard greens
- Brussels sprouts
- nuts and beans, such as peanuts and kidney beans
- whole grains
- citrus fruit, such as oranges or grapefruit
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 for vegans include:
- fortified cereals
- nutritional yeast
The 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:
- starchy vegetables, such as potatoes
- non-citrus fruits, such as banana
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:
- wheat germ
- cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower
- peanut butter
- Riboflavin – asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms.
- Methylfolate – spinach, asparagus, romaine lettuce, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, cauliflower, broccoli, parsley, lentils and beets
- Vitamin B12 in the form of Methylcobalamin – is not present in plant food but is found in nutritional yeast (which is tasty on everything)
- Betaine (trimethylglycine, TMG) – beets, spinach
- Magnesium – quinoa, oatmeal, nuts (Brazil nuts, almonds, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, peanuts and peanut butter), seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and tahini)
- Zinc – beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, walnuts, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, wholemeal bread and quinoa
Impaired methylation results in decreased production of dopamine. The altered dopamine levels ultimately lead to altered levels of the other neurotransmitters. As a result, these individuals lack focus, concentration, short-term memory, organization, emotional stability, good sleep hygiene, and hormone regulation
The body’s inherent detoxification processes are impaired when methylation is off, leading to the buildup of toxic metabolites and the accumulation of environmental toxins, such as heavy metals.
Marjoram is the dried leaves of a herbal plant. Marjoram is a Greek word that means “joy of mountains.” There was a myth that if marjoram grew on a person’s grave, that person would enjoy eternal joy and happiness.
Both oregano and marjoram are two herbs of the Mint family used in Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. They are available as both fresh leaves and dried herbs. They look very similar and taste alike. Sweet marjoram has a slightly sweeter taste than oregano and is used in much the same way as oregano, as a flavoring for soups, stews, vegetables, and meat dishes.
It is evergreen in zones 9 and 10, but in most zones, it is grown either as an annual or as a potted plant that is brought indoors when the weather turns cold. Sweet marjoram is a mound-forming shrub that grows 1 to 2 feet tall with aromatic gray-green leaves. Tiny white or pink flowers bloom from mid to late summer, though they are not especially showy.
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin K
A one-teaspoon serving of dried marjoram (the amount typically used to flavor dishes) contains:
- Calories: 1.63
- Protein: 0.076 grams
- Fat: 0.042 grams
- Carbohydrates: 0.363 grams
- Fiber: 0.242 grams
- Sugar: 0.025 grams
Marjoram may be beneficial to hormonal health, especially for women. One study showed that women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) who consume marjoram tea twice daily for one month are able to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce their levels of adrenal androgens.
Studies show that marjoram has anxiety-reducing properties. In people experiencing bruxism, or tooth-grinding, aromatherapy with marjoram oil enhanced the anxiety-reducing effects of neurofeedback training.
Marjoram has been used medicinally to help treat a variety of ailments, including digestive issues, infections, and painful menstruation.
It is important to note that marjoram extracts vary in strength and purity based on the manufacturer and source. To make sure you are getting a high-quality product, look for third-party certification on the label.
Common uses for marjoram include:
- applying its diluted essential oil to your skin to treat fungal infections, as well as taking supplements to help treat overgrowth of gut bacteria
- as a natural pesticide for various food crops
- prevent digestive issues like stomach ulcers and certain food-borne illnesses
- stimulate menstrual flow – its extract or tea may help regulate your menstrual cycle, as well as restore hormone balance in non-pregnant women with an irregular cycle
- treat polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder with symptoms like irregular periods and acne. A study in 25 women with PCOS found that marjoram tea improved their hormonal profiles and insulin sensitivity
How to Buy
Dried marjoram can be found in the spice aisle of most supermarkets, and you can also find fresh leaves, oil extract, or tea bags at health food and specialty stores.
Fresh or dried leaves can be made into a tea or extract.
For fresh marjoram, make sure it is bright green and fresh-looking, and for dried marjoram, double-check the best by date.
How to Store
To store fresh marjoram, wrap it in a damp paper towel or cloth, tucked loosely in a silicone or air-tight container. Store it in the refrigerator. You can use it within 10-14 days for the best quality.
You can also store fresh marjoram cut side down in a glass or jar and put a little bit of water in there just like you cut flowers. Place it in the refrigerator at the back, where it’s quite cold.
Store dried marjoram in a cool, dry place in a glass container.
How to Cook
To prepare marjoram tea at home, steep the leaves in boiling water for at least three minutes.
You can also add marjoram as a spice to sautéed or roasted vegetables, and tomato-based stews and sauces. If you’re using fresh marjoram, remove the stems before adding the leaves to any recipe.
Marjoram is wonderful on cauliflower. Sprinkle the herb on before roasting. marinate mushrooms with oil, marjoram, and other spices.
Vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup
Christin McKamey/ Veggie Chick
In a (dry) high-powered blender, add the raw cashews, black pepper, salt, and nutritional yeast. Blend until a powder-like consistency, about 20-30 seconds. Leave in the blender for now.
In a large Dutch oven or pot, add the 1/4 cup unsalted vegetable broth over medium high heat. Then, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring. Next add the leeks and mushrooms and cook, uncovered, until the mushrooms are soft, about 5-6 minutes.
Add the remaining 2 cups vegetable broth, white wine, cauliflower florets, and chopped marjoram. Stir. Bring to a boil, and simmer on a medium boil for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is soft. Note: it doesn’t need to fall apart, but just soft enough for the blender to blend it up.
Remove from heat, and carefully transfer the mixture to the blender (with the cashew cream). Add the unsweetened almond milk and lemon juice. Begin blending on low speed at first, then increasing the speed, until smooth. If the soup is too thick for your liking, add additional almond milk and re-blend. Serve immediately. Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 cups total. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 4-5 days.
- It’s very important to make sure the blender is completely dry before processing, otherwise the cashews will not blend into a powder-like consistency and will stick to the bottom. If your blender has been recently washed, wipe down with a paper towel beforehand.
- For this recipe, the soup ends up being completely smooth, but if you like little chunks or pieces of mushrooms throughout , dice the mushrooms (instead of slicing). Then after cooking the mushrooms/leeks, remove from the pan before adding the liquid, and then add the veggies in after you blend the soup in the blender.