All you need to know about genetic methylation tests

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In the world of genetics and epigenetics, there are more and more tests available on the market so it is not easy to distinguish one from the other. Although conceptually the tests are related, the results and their implication have nothing to do with each other. Lately there has been a lot of talking about genetic methylation tests or methylation panels, which are often confused with epigenetic tests, which measure DNA methylation. However, these tests have different purposes and approaches, and understanding these differences is critical to choose the right test.

What are genetic methylation tests?

Methylation is one of the main pathways through which the body controls gene expression, adding a methyl group (-CH3) to the DNA molecule, especially to cytosine bases. This process is crucial for regulating gene expression. Genetic methylation tests identify specific genetic variants in genes related to this process, analyzing variations in the DNA sequence that affect methylation capability. Since these tests examine the genetic code we are born with, the results do not change over time.

Some of the genetic variants that these tests can identify include variants in genes such as MTHFR, MTRR, MTR, COMT, and others involved in the methylation cycle. The metabolism of homocysteine is also implicated in this cycle. The presence of certain genetic variants may influence the efficiency of methylation and the body's ability to process B vitamins, metabolize homocysteine, synthesize neurotransmitters, and detoxify the body.

Genetic methylation test

How do genetic methylation tests differ from epigenetic tests?

Unlike genetic methylation tests, which analyze the DNA sequence, epigenetic tests measure the level of DNA methylation, that is, how many methyl groups (-CH3) are present. These methylation patterns can change in response to environmental factors such as diet, stress, exercise, and toxin exposure. Therefore, the results of an epigenetic test are temporary, as they reflect the DNA methylation at that specific moment. In three months, those results may change, as DNA methylation is dynamic and does not alter the DNA sequence."

Advantages of genetic methylation tests

Having explained the differences between the two tests, let's look at the advantages of having a genetic methylation test.

  • Personalized Supplementation: The results of these tests can provide information about the need for supplementation with certain vitamins and minerals. For example, a variation (sometimes also called a mutation) in the MTHFR gene may indicate an increased need for folic acid in its active form (methylfolate).
  • Disease Prevention: Understanding genetic variants in methylation genes can help in the prevention of conditions associated with malfunctioning of the methylation cycle, such as cardiovascular diseases, neurological problems, and certain types of cancer.
  • Optimization of Mental Health: Variants in genes related to methylation can influence the synthesis of neurotransmitters and, therefore, mental health. With this information, strategies can be designed to improve emotional and cognitive well-being.

Conclusion

Genetic methylation tests offer a valuable window into understanding how variants in specific genes can affect the body’s ability to regulate methylation and, consequently, overall health. Although they are often confused with epigenetic tests that measure DNA methylation, it is important to recognize that these tests have distinct objectives and methods. While epigenetic tests analyze changes in gene expression due to environmental factors, genetic methylation tests focus on identifying genetic predispositions that may require personalized interventions. 

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