The Role of Methylation in Attachment Disorder

By | 2017-05-15T21:57:34+00:00 May 12th, 2017|

As parents and professionals, we are always looking for ways to make the healing process faster when working with children with Attachment Disorder.  In this article, we are going to talk about one of the most important correctable factors that could be contributing to slower healing in children with attachment disorder.  

There is always the question of nurture versus nature: is a disease environmental or genetic?

As with most other diseases, both genetics and environment can play a role. As much as Attachment Disorder is a disease of inadequate nurture and emotional connection in early life, genetics can make one’s threshold for developing an insecure attachment lower.

What this means is that if two children have the same environment in early childhood, it is possible that either one (or both) can develop an insecure attachment or Attachment Disorder because of their genetics.

Similarly, when doing therapeutic attachment parenting with a child with Attachment Disorder, a child with problems in their genetics will respond slower or may not be able to heal completely if left undetected and uncorrected.

The genes controlling the Methylation Cycle are one of the most important genetic processes affecting mood and mental health.  It is so important that it is one of the three essential medical tests to do when working with a child with Attachment Disorder!

Methylation Cycle Genetics

Methylation is a cycle in our cells that controls vital functions such as how our DNA is expressed.  

This is called epigenetics: which parts of our DNA are turned on and made into protein and which parts are silenced.

Problems in the Methylation Cycle affect a number of other essential mechanisms, including the levels of B vitamins in our cells, our body’s detoxification system, and levels of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters).

Dr. Ben Lynch, who has a lot of experience with methylation and epigenetics, believes methylation problems are to be implicated in mental illness, addictions, schizophrenia, cancer, and cardiovascular related deaths.  

Dr. William Walsh: Methylation and Mental Health

Dr. William Walsh has been fundamental in bringing the role of methylation genetics to light in children and adults with emotional and behavioral issues.

Throughout his career, he has developed the largest database in this specific population.  Through blood and urine tests, he found biochemical differences in their metabolism and found a few genetic differences that are present at a much higher rate than in the general population.

His database has included adults within the prison system and with diagnoses of Antisocial Personality Disorder and children with diagnoses of Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder and ADHD.  His work has not been limited to these, but has also included a large number of other mental health diagnoses that encompass depression and anxiety.

In all of these mood and mental health patients, Dr. Walsh found a few key genetic findings, that when corrected, are able to completely change their symptoms and their life starts flowing in a positive way!  Methylation is one of those key genetic findings.

Dr. Walsh found 95% of adults diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder, 85% of children with Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and 70% of people with any mental health disorder to specifically have a serious problem in their methylation genetics (1).

His lectures are very interesting and I highly recommend them!  Some of them are on Youtube. Check out his lecture at the Silicon Valley Health Institute in 2015 that goes into the role of methylation in mental health.  

This has been my experience as well.  After starting to analyze the genetics in the children I work with, and in both the children and adults with Attachment Disorder, a large percentage have problems with their Methylation Cycle.

The most recent example is an adopted 11 year old girl who was still very hyperactive after trauma work and 6 months of awesome therapeutic attachment parenting by her mom.  Based on her methylation genetics, we took her off folic acid by eliminating enriched grains in her diet, and within 3 days, her mom said there was a significant change in her hyperactivity!  She was noticeably calmer just by not giving her grains enriched with folic acid!

Genetics and Genetic Mutations

Within our cells, DNA is a template that is read and then used to make proteins that actually do all the work.  Proteins get old over time, and so the production of protein from DNA is a very active process!

DNA is made up of 4 different molecules referred to as Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine (C), and Guanine (G). Different arrangements of these 4 bases make up the code that is read to make all the proteins in our body (R).

DNA mutations refer to a change from the normal or functional base.  For example, if a code for protein is CGTA, a mutation would be any change from this code,  CCTA would be a mutation, and specifically a SNP – a single nucleotide polymorphism, when one single base has been changed or mutated.

Sometimes SNPs don’t affect the final protein product at all!  Other times, it changes how a protein folds up, and with a different shape, it doesn’t work as well or at all.  

Methylation Genetics and MTHFR

Perhaps you have already heard of methylation genetics.  Methylation is more commonly associated with Autism and it has changed the treatment and outcome of many children!

MTHFR is the name of the methylation gene that is most often implicated in Autism, and variations in the normal gene are what have been termed methylation problems and implicated in Autism (2).

MTHFR actually has a few important mutations, the two that have the most impact known at this time are MTHFR SNP’s C677T and A1298C.  These specific DNA mutations or SNPs cause the most disruption in the final MTHFR protein and its ability to do its job.

If the MTHFR protein is not able to do its job, then everything goes awry. Cells become imbalanced and  also the DNA expression of other proteins, such as the proteins that regulate neurotransmitter levels that control depression and anxiety.

Mood and mental health problems can be the result of methylation problems!

At this time, methylation is not something that most primary care doctors are aware of or test for.  This is very unfortunate because they are the first line of defense for people seeking health for anxiety, depression, or children with emotional dysregulation!

Many naturopathic doctors or functional medicine doctors will know about methylation genetic testing, and can analyze your raw DNA that you order from 23andme.

Problems with Typical Treatment for Methylation Mutations

Typically, the treatment for methylation problems has been to supplement people with the methylation end-products. If the methylation protein is not able to work efficiently, we will bypass the enzyme and give it what it has a hard time making: methyl-folate and methyl-B12.  The common forms of these B Vitamins are folate or folic acid and B12.

However, it is not that simple and straightforward.  If you or your child has methylation problem and you start supplementing with methyl-folate or methyl-B12, you may make things worse.  This was Dr. William Walsh’s experience, and so far, has been my experience as well.

After finding that many of his patients had negative reactions to folate supplementation despite a known genetic methylation problem in C677T or A1298C, he found methylation problems fall into two categories: Under-methylators and Over-methylators. Thus, it is not enough to know whether there is a MTHFR mutation in C677T or A1298C, but whether this results in epigenetic under-methylation or over-methylation of the DNA (Walsh, 2012).  

Two Categories of Methylation Mutations

Let’s say you have done the genetic testing and analysis and you know you or your child has a methylation mutation in C677T or A1298C.  How do you know which category of methylation problems you or your child falls under?

After working with thousands of these patients, Dr. Walsh noticed personality traits of each of the categories (1).  

Some of the typical features of an under-methylator are:

  • Highly Competitive in Games and Sports
  • Perfectionistic
  • Obsessive Compulsive Tendencies
  • Strong-Willed
  • Seasonal Allergies
  • Calm Exterior but Inner Tension

Typical features of an over-methylator include:

  • High Artistic and Musical Talent
  • Tendency for High Anxiety, Panic
  • Non-Competitive
  • Food/Chemical Sensitivities
  • Underachievement
  • Sleep Disorder
  • Paranoia
  • Depression

Blood Test for Methylation

The best way to test for methylation is to directly measure the levels of the methylation cycle products in your blood.  This can easily be done through a blood test through Doctor’s Data called the Plasma Methylation Test.  Any functional medicine doctor should be able to order this test for you if they have an account with Doctor’s Data.

At the time I am writing this blog, the blood test for the methylation by-products costs around $150.  Most importantly, it will give you the levels of S-Adenosyl-Methionine and S-Adenosyl-Homocysteine, the ratio of the two indicating whether the overall effect is under-methylation or over-methylation.

Folic Acid Treatment in Methylation Problems

Even though they are overall deficient in folic acid in their body, under-methylators have a negative response to folate in terms of their mood and mental health.  

This is what confused practitioners for so long when they first started looking at methylation problems in people with emotional and behavioral problems…why were they getting worse with folic acid when they should be getting better?

What Dr. William Walsh discovered is that folic acid has a specific effect on the DNA that makes the proteins that take away Serotonin in our brain (1).  Serotonin is normally released by neurons in our brain into a space called a synapse.  This space allows the Serotonin to bind receptors on neurons in the area.

When Serotonin binds to receptors on neurons, it generates a feeling of calm and happiness.  Inadequate Serotonin binding to receptors results in mood disturbances, including depression and anxiety.  

To regulate serotonin, we also make proteins from our DNA that take away serotonin to keep the system balanced.  The amount of serotonin in the synapse and binding to receptors is a combination of the amount of serotonin the brain makes and the amount of proteins made that take away serotonin (reuptake transporters).

Folic acid specifically causes more reuptake proteins to be made. This makes for decreased levels of serotonin in the synapse because it is being taken away faster.  

In summary, it is not only whether you have one of the DNA SNP mutations in the methylation cycle, especially MTHFR, but it is whether the net effect is under-methylation or over-methylation.  

It is important to work with a practitioner to do these tests and DNA analysis, and see if you or your child has these factors that are contributing to poor mood and mental health.  It will be much harder for someone to feel well, connect with others and heal from attachment disorder if they have serious problems with their methylation cycle.  

Given how prevalent methylation defects have been found in children and adults with emotional and behavioral issues, I want to offer you the chance to be a part of the attachment methylation database and offer a special for the month of May.  

In honor of Mother’s Day, you can receive a free consultation of your child’s methylation genetics.  This is a savings of $250 that is the normal consultation fee!  Your cost would just include the actual genetics testing through 23andme, $30 for the online analysis, and $150 for a blood test for the methylation by-products.  Your child will be part of the growing database of children with attachment issues. This is just for the month of May, and I hope you so email me at and let me know you would like to test your child and get a free consultation.

To your health and happiness~

Dr. Aimie

Related: Attachment Disorder As A (Curable) Disease


Leave A Comment