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Clin Chem Lab Med. 2005;43(10):1164-9.

The vegetarian lifestyle and DNA methylation.

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Department of Clinical Chemistry, Saarland Medical School, Homburg, Germany.


Vegetarians have a lower intake of vitamin B12 than omnivores do. Vitamin B12 deficiency (holotranscobalamin II <35 pmol/L or methylmalonic acid >271 nmol/L) was found in 58% of 71 vegetarians studied. Higher homocysteine levels (>12 micromol/L) found in 45% indicate disturbed remethylation of homocysteine to methionine. The methylation of DNA is strongly linked to homocysteine metabolism. Since DNA methylation is an important epigenetic factor in the regulation of gene expression, alteration of the methylation pattern has been associated with aging, cancer, atherosclerosis and other diseases. Three observations indicate that DNA methylation could be diminished by a vegetarian lifestyle. The vegetarian diet has a low content of methionine, remethylation of homocysteine is reduced by vitamin B12 deficiency and elevated homocysteine levels can induce the generation of S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH), a potent inhibitor of methyltransferases. In our study we observed a significant correlation between SAH and whole-genome methylation (r=-0.36, p<0.01). This observation underlines the role of SAH as a potent inhibitor of methyltransferases. The methylation status was not correlated with homocysteine or S-adenosylemethionine (SAM). These results indicate that the degree of methylation does not depend on the supply of methyl groups and that the reverse generation of SAH has no influence. In addition to whole-genome methylation, the specific promoter methylation of the p66Shc gene was studied. However, the latter did not correlate with SAH, SAM or homocysteine. Obviously, the promoter methylation of the p66Shc gene is controlled in a specific way, without following the general regulating influence of SAH. In conclusion, an inhibitory effect of SAH on whole-genome methylation was found, but from our data no interaction between vegetarian lifestyle and DNA methylation could be determined.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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