Homocysteine and how it affects your heart.
The amino acid homocysteine naturally forms as a result of breaking down another amino acid, methionine, which is found in red meat. High levels of homocysteine concentration in the blood substantially increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Many studies with large patient populations show this relationship very consistently. And even minor elevations can make a difference in amount of risk. Why? Homocysteine increases the stickiness of blood platelets. Platelets are small pieces of cell that are part of the process of clotting blood. Higher homocysteine levels bring about abnormal coagulation tendencies within the blood vessels resulting in dangerous blood clots.
- Research finds that patients with atherosclerosis had 26% higher homocysteine levels than controls.
- People with high homocysteine levels are 13 times more likely to experience blood clots.
- Patients with the highest levels of homocysteine have 2 times the likelihood of having blocked arteries compared to those with the lowest levels. These patients also had the lowest levels of folic acid and vitamin B6.
- Patients with the highest levels of homocysteine are 3 times as likely to have a heart attack.
- Researchers in the UK compared blood samples from over 21, 000 patients and found that men who died of heart attacks had 4 times the likelihood of experiencing a fatal heart attack.
High homocysteine levels have been connected to many conditions including leukemia, arthritis, gout, depression, cancer, kidney disease and others. In addition, high homocysteine levels are also connected to poor cognitive capacity.
Causes of elevated homocysteine
- Homocysteine levels increase with age. Dr. Ward Dean writes that Dr. Dong Xu of Georgetown Medical School found that homocysteine increases the rate of telomere shortening - that telomeres are like "caps" that are located on the ends of chromosomes and protect the chromosome ends from breaking down. Telomeres are a part of the cell division process and shorten each time a cell divides. After enough divisions cell death naturally occurs, but what is interesting is that telomeres are "thus believed to act as a cellular clock to regulate lifespan." What Dr. Xu discovered was that homocysteine hastens this shortening process.
- Elevated homocysteine levels are correlated to deficiencies in folic acid, B6, B12 and betaine which required for the metabolism of homocysteine. For example, without vitamin B6, homocysteine is not properly broken down (remember, it forms as a by-product of metabolizing an enzyme in red meat) and begins to accumulate.
- Coffee consumption is also tied to homocysteine levels according to a large study of 4,754 patients at Johns Hopkins. One solution is supplementation with betaine.
- Niacin (vitamin B3) is recommended to lower cholesterol, lipoprotein and triglycerides and to raise HDL, however, high doses, greater than 1000mg increase homocysteine but can be offset by proper nutrition.
- Some drugs, such as Metformin prescribed for type 2 diabetes increases homocysteine levels, probably because it decreases absorption of vitamin B12.
- Low levels of S-Adenosyl-methionine (SAMe) are tied to elevated levels of homocysteine.
- Read about how homocysteine is tied to eye disease and how it forms.
Simple lifestyle changes can help maintain good homocysteine levels.
- Plenty of exercise
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Reducing meat consumption
- Eating a diet high in protein
- Supplementation: Check with your medical provider as to whether you need this. Your daily diet may or may not include sufficient amounts of these nutrients.
See food sources of folic acid, B6 and B12.
- Supplementing with folic acid if daily diet does not include enough folic acid - 800mcg to 5mg/daily.
- Supplementing with vitamin B6 if not included in daily diet - 100-300 mg daily, and up to 750mg daily for some people.
- Supplementing with vitamin B12 up to 1mg a day if diet is insufficient.
- Betaine supplementation for coffee drinkers. (5 gm - 1 teaspoon betaine powder per cup of coffee). Betaine is found in whole wheat, beets and spinach.
- Choline supplementation - about 2 g daily.
- The antioxidants vitamins C and E may help protect against the effects of high homocysteine levels.
Article by Dr. Ward Dean, http://www.vrp.com/heart-health/homocysteine-risks-include-stroke-heart-disease-and-other-health-concerns
International Task Force for Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease Report