Homocysteine and Hyperhomocysteinemia: Hard to spell. Easy to manage
Since we’re science people and love the mysteries of the body, let’s talk about another one.
Homocysteine is a common amino acid (aka the “building blocks of proteins”) in your blood. High levels of it are linked to the early development of heart disease. In fact, a study published in the British Medical Journal showed that the homocysteine level in a person’s blood plasma is a higher predictor of death from cardiovascular disease in older people than cholesterol, high blood pressure or smoking. And homocysteine comes mostly from eating meat.
Does that mean I’ll get high homocysteine levels from eating steak and burgers?
Not exactly … although the advice to go easy on the red meat may be wise for some (due to cholesterol), we’ve since learned that it’s not really the intake of homocysteine that’s the problem; it’s what your body does with it. There are more strongly associated causes of elevated homocysteine levels or hyperhomocysteinemia.
BTW - Words like “hyperhomocysteinemia” are the reason the National Spelling Bee Championship is on ESPN.
But back to causes of elevated homocysteine.
Causes of Elevated Homocysteine Levels (source: AHA Journals)
Deficiency of folate or vitamins B6/B12
Low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism)
Medications (e.g. proton pump inhibitors)
Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) genetic mutations, especially when gene received from both parents
Systemic lupus erythematosus
Poor vitamin intake
Other factors thought to raise levels are poor diet, smoking, high coffee (yikes) and alcohol intake, diabetes, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
In most cases, histamine is broken down by enzymes in your body, which prevents it from building up. But if these enzymes aren’t working properly histamine quickly accumulates. This can lead to histamine intolerance.
WHY do these H words cause such problems?
Cell damage, in a nutshell. The reason homocysteine accumulates in the body, causing cell damage and the onset of major disease, is because the biochemical transformation process (transforming consumed nutrients into usable ones) is not working properly. This usually happens due to a lack of the necessary vitamin forms and co-factors required to make the downstream enzymatic conversions needed for optimal health.
We want homocysteine to get enzymatically converted back into methionine, which is benign to the body - but for this to happen, our MTHFR gene needs to convert folate properly into methylfolate or you will want to take methylfolate directly (as little as 3 mg a day can positively affect homocysteine levels). Another thing that can help this conversion take place is TMG (trimethylglycine) - 600-1,800 mg a day.
Is heart disease the only thing to worry about?
It’s definitely one of the most dangerous by-products of high homocysteine, but it’s not the only one. Increased levels are also linked to
- declining memory
- poor concentration and judgment
- lowered mood
- neural tube defects in babies
- Methylfolate, especially if you have an MTHFR mutation
- B6 (as pyridoxal-5-phosphate)
- B2 (as riboflavin-5-phosphate)
- B12 (as one or all of the 3 active forms: hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin)
- Zinc, and
- Trimethylglycine (TMG)