What Is Homocysteine?
Homocysteine is an amino acid byproduct resulting from the breakdown of protein via metabolism. Escalated levels of Homocysteine in the bloodstream are associated with a heightened incidence of stroke and heart attack. Medical researchers are still unsure of the exact reasons for this increased risk, but it's hypothesized that high concentrations of Homocysteine adversely affect arterial walls, leading to damage which encourages the formation of dangerous plaque. It's also believed that excess Homocysteine can impact blood platelet composition, potentially leading to problems related to the creation of clots.
At this point, researchers don't know for sure whether high homocysteine levels increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. It's possible that elevated Homocysteine levels are a byproduct of some other factor that increases cardiovascular risk, or may also be a warning sign of existing issues without being a direct contributor to damage. This is similar to how Elevated levels of Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) are a warning sign of Prostate Cancer but do not actually contribute to cancer risk.
We're still learning a lot about how Homocysteine Levels affect health, but it's also hypothesized that high Homocysteine Levels may double the risk of Alzheimers Disease among aging individuals.
Who Is Most Likely to Experience High Homocysteine Levels?
Elevated Homocysteine Levels are generally the result of diet. Diets high in meat and low in veggies and fruits tend to produce the highest Homocysteine Levels. High animal protein intake creates lots of Homocysteine and the absence of B Vitamins (including folic acid) slows down the rate at which the body can evacuate Homocysteine from the blood.
The human body can also produce its own Homocysteine. Methionine is comprised of a methyl group attached to a Homocysteine molecule. Methionine promotes cellular reactions by donating its methyl group to other molecules, which leaves an independent Homocysteine. Vitamin B6 and Folic Acid reduce Homocysteine Levels by giving a methyl group to Homocysteine, restoring it to Methionine.
While there is some sort of correlation between elevated Homocysteine Levels and cardiovascular issues, there is no overwhelming evidence that high Homocysteine contributes to increased risk of stroke and heart disease.
Study Shows No Link Between Homocysteine Gene Mutation and Heart Disease
In the year 2012, a broad study was published in the Public Library of Science which evaluated Homocysteine's influence on heart disease risk. This study collected the medical information of 116,000 patients that had received genetic testing regarding the presence of a genetic mutation which leads to increased Homocysteine Levels. They found that individuals with this particular mutation had 20% higher levels of Homocysteine than those without the mutation. In spite of these increased Homocysteine Levels, the subjects experienced no elevated risk of Heart Disease.
On the other hand, a single study does not breed a consensus. Another study released in 2006 by the New England Journal of Medicine found that women struggling with heart disease experience quadruple the mortality risk compared to women with normal levels of Homocysteine. While the risk associated with elevated Homocysteine Levels is apparent, no conclusive evidence was provided by the study which could blame Homocysteine for Heart Disease. In relationship to the 2012 survey, high Homocysteine Levels could be a symptom of Heart Disease rather than a contributing factor.
Symptoms of High Homocysteine Levels
Elevated Homocysteine Levels are not known to directly contribute to any adverse health symptoms, though Vitamin B12 Deficiency (which leads to an increase in Homocysteine Levels) is associated with symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, and pale skin. There are some medical issues which are related to Elevated Homocysteine, though it's likely not the root cause of them. These conditions include Alzheimers, Dementia, Stroke, Coronary Artery Disease, Heart Attack, Blood Clots, Atherosclerosis, and Osteoporosis.
What Leads to Increased Homocysteine Levels?
While the body's internal mechanisms have an impact on your Homocysteine Concentrations, there are other factors associated with diet and medication which affect Homocysteine Levels. If your Folic Acid Intake is less than 400 mcg daily your risk of High Homocysteine Levels increases. Regular coffee drinkers are more likely to test positive for elevated Homocysteine Levels, as are individuals that suffer high levels of stress. Stress increases Homocysteine Concentrations because it leads to the increased release of norepinephrine and epinephrine, both of which borrow methyl groups from methionine. If you're under a lot of stress, you should strongly consider increasing your Folic Acid intake. Thyroid Deficiency can also lead to increased Homocysteine, as well as psoriasis and kidney disease.
How Are Homocysteine Levels Evaluated?
Homocysteine Levels can be analyzed via blood test. While these blood tests aren't commonly performed, they can be beneficial for certain at-risk patients. Individuals at elevated risk for Heart Disease are sometimes tested for underlying Homocysteine Concentrations. The normal range for Homocysteine is from 4.4-10.8 umol/l.
What Can Be Done to Regulate Homocysteine Levels More Effectively?
The best ways to control Homocysteine are to manage stress and eat lots of foods high in B Vitamins. Some great options for folic acid include folate derived from beans, orange juice, and green vegetables. A quality multivitamin is a smart choice to shore up any B-Vitamin Deficiency caused by diet. You should choose a supplement which provides at least 400mcg of folic acid. You may also opt to reduce your consumption of animal protein to control your Homocysteine Levels. Many have found it highly beneficial to take a day or two off per week from meat consumption, or simply limit your daily intake of animal protein.
While there's little evidence that Homocysteine Levels lead to negative health outcomes among patients, controlling your Homocysteine Concentrations does have ancillary benefits because these changes do reduce your risk factors for other conditions which can negatively impact your health, even though the reduction in Homocysteine Levels may be an arbitrary benefit.