How to Lower Homocysteine Naturally if You Have MTHFR
High homocysteine is bad news, especially for those with an MTHFR genetic mutation. It’s important to understand how seriously it may affect your body and your brain.
Homocysteine is a type of sulfur-containing amino acid that the body produces from the breakdown of another amino acid, methionine. Normally, your body is able to keep homocysteine at low levels by converting it into useful biochemicals.
To do this, your body requires the help of certain B vitamins—namely folate, B6, and B12. Each of these nutrients works together in a process called the methionine-homocysteine pathway.
However, a deficiency in these B vitamins can lead to higher homocysteine levels. Deficiencies may result from a mutation on the MTHFR gene, which affects 30-40 percent of the American population. Around 5% of the general population is affected by high homocysteine levels.
High homocysteine is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease in older people; even more so than high cholesterol, blood pressure, or smoking. Associated cognitive disorders include migraines, dementia, poor memory function, reduced concentration, and low mood. Women with high homocysteine may struggle to conceive and are at risk of recurrent miscarriage.
Reducing your homocysteine levels is crucial for protecting your long-term health. The best way to do this is by increasing your intake of B vitamins, particularly folate. Taking folate, B12, and B6 together has been shown to help lower homocysteine levels more effectively than taking folate alone.
We’ll explain how the methionine-homocysteine pathway works, and how these particular B vitamins are so important for lowering homocysteine levels.
How to Lower Homocysteine Levels with Diet & Supplements
Studies have indicated that elevated homocysteine is closely linked to low levels of plasma folate. There are also links between blood levels of vitamin B12 and pyridoxal-5-phosphate (the active form of B6).
The right intake of folate, vitamin B6, vitaminB12, and betaine or TMG (trimethylglycine) may control or alleviate the risk of elevated homocysteine. In addition to these B vitamins, those with high homocysteine can also benefit from other nutrients to help reduce their levels and restore good health. Betaine also helps the body metabolize homocysteine. In the few cases where folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 fail to normalize homocysteine, adding betaine (trimethylglycine) may be effective.
Foods that are rich in folate, B6, and B12should be included in your diet as often as possible.
Because a vitamin deficiency often occurs as a result of poor diet and/or weak digestive function, your diet should also include foods rich in protein and probiotic bacteria to help restore the integrity of the digestive tract. Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 can help reduce inflammation and the risk of heart disease.
Here’s a list of the top foods with folate, vitamin B6, B12, or a combination of these vitamins:
Edamame (green soybeans): Edamame beans are rich in protein and all nine essential amino acids.
Lentils: As well as folate, lentils are an excellent source of other B vitamins and minerals including iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
Borlotti beans / Roman beans (cooked): Cooked Roman beans are a good source of folate. They also contain 21% of your daily value for iron, 20%of copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Spinach: One of the richest sources of folate, spinach also provides 300% of the daily need for vitamin K, over 160% of vitamin A, and about 40% of vitamin C.
Asparagus: Also high in fiber and vitamins A, C, and K.
Red salmon / Sockeye salmon (filets with skin): Different types of salmon have different levels of B12. The type with the highest B12 value is red salmon (with skin). Salmon is also rich in B6 and protein and is one of the best oily-fish sources of Omega 3.
Fortified tofu: Tofu provides all nine essential amino acids and vitamin B1. It’s also a plant source of iron, along with minerals manganese, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc.
Lean beef: Along with protein, lean beef is an excellent source of iron, Vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, niacin, and phosphorus.
Bananas: Known for their high potassium content, bananas also provide vitamin C and fiber.
Clams: Clams are one of the best sources of vitamin B12 and the other B vitamins, along with iron and protein.
Beef liver: Rich in protein, iron, and vitamin A. Small servings are recommended for those with high cholesterol.
Swiss cheese: High in protein and calcium, and lower in fat than cheddar or soft cheeses.
Natural Greek yogurt: Plain Greek yogurt provides vitaminB-12, calcium, and vitamin D. It’s also a valuable source of probiotics, which can help to support gastrointestinal health.
Vitamins and Supplements
While food sources are a good start, supplementation is often the most efficient way to lower homocysteine levels quickly—as long as each nutrient is in its bioactive form.
Mutations of the MTHFR gene(methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) are a significant risk factor in elevated homocysteine. A mutation on the MTHFR gene can seriously affect the ability of the MTHFR enzyme to function normally, which has severe implications for the homocysteine cycle.
The MTHFR gene is responsible for making an enzyme called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. This enzyme plays many important roles in your body, including the processing of amino acids.
More importantly, it’s required for the conversion of a form of folate called 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate to a form called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate. This is the primary active form of folate in your body required for the conversion of homocysteine into methionine.
Ordinary folic acid supplements will not provide the full spectrum of effects to an MTHFR-mutated body—those individuals are unable to convert folate to its biologically active form. Taking bioactive folate 5-MTHF directly has been shown to significantly increase blood serum folate levels and reduce homocysteine levels.
One study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the effectiveness of 100 mcg folic acid with L-MTHF in lowering homocysteine levels. After 24 weeks, it was found that L-MTHF was more effective than folic acid in lowering homocysteine.
Some of the best methylfolate supplements for those with MTHFR mutations include Methyl-Life® products such as:
This product range has been created by a team of natural health experts and contains the purest, most stable, and most potent of the world’s industry-leading patented L-methylfolate supplements. It is also suitable for vegans and those with cardiovascular risks.
Vitamin B6 (P5P)
Low B6 status can cause homocysteine to accumulate, while also reducing the availability of SAMe (S-Adenosyl Methionine) for methylation processes.
The active form of vitamin B6 is known aspyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P), which makes up around 70-80% of vitamin B6 in plasma. It serves as a cofactor for more than 150 enzymes in the body, including the metabolism of homocysteine and tryptophan.
P5P is necessary for the function of two enzymes, cystathionine ß-synthase (CBS) and cystathionine γ-lyase (CSE) in the breakdown of homocysteine to cysteine. This is involved in reducing homocysteine levels and also in overall detoxification, as up to 50% of the cysteine produced through this pathway is used to create glutathione. This means those with increased homocysteine levels almost certainly require additional P5P.
Vitamin B6 is considered safe in doses up to100 mg per day.
Some people are unable to properly metabolizeP5P or clear it from their system, which can lead to it accumulating in the body and becoming toxic. Tight band headaches can be a debilitating symptom of this pyridoxal-5-phosphate toxicity. Ceasing P5Psupplementation should stop these headaches.
B12 is intimately involved in red blood cell production and nervous system maintenance. It works alongside folate and vitamin B6 in the methionine-homocysteine pathway to maintain normal concentrations of homocysteine.
A deficiency of vitamin B12 may lead to increased homocysteine levels. But when taken along with folate, B12 has been shown to help lower homocysteine levels more significantly than taking folate alone.
If your diet is not providing adequate B12 -or your body is unable to absorb it properly - supplementation with a highly bioavailable form of vitamin B12 is the most efficient way to ensure optimal levels. This is particularly important for vegans/vegetarians, the elderly, and anyone with MTR, MTRR or MTHFR gene mutations.
One study showed that vegans whose intake ofB12 averaged 5.6 mcg/day had homocysteine levels of 7.9 µmol/l, which was slightly lower than those with normal B12 levels.
Methy-Life’s® B12 Complete is ideal for people who have gene mutations that may be affecting B12 absorption. B12 Complete contains a combination of the 3 most bioactive forms of B12 (hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin) for maximum delivery and absorption.
Trimethylglycine (TMG) is also referred to as betaine. Supplementation of betaine can indirectly support whole-body methylation, as well as directly support a reduction in homocysteine.
It donates a methyl group to break down homocysteine into L-methionine, as well as increasing levels of S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAMe)or active folate molecules. This allows SAMe and folate to go on and donate methyl groups to other parts of the body.
A New Zealand study showed that the homocysteine scores of patients with chronic kidney failure and very high homocysteine levels were reduced by a further 18% when they were given4g of TMG along with 50mg of vitamin B6 and 5000mcg of folate. These results were compared to patients taking only B6 and folate.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to acutely lower homocysteine and other cardiovascular risk factors.
Patients who took NAC for four weeks were shown to have significantly decreased plasma homocysteine concentrations, even if they smoked or had high cholesterol.
Supplementing patients with 1,800 mg NAC daily for four weeks was also found to decrease homocysteine levels by an average of almost 12%.
Taurine is a non-essential sulfur-containing amino acid, like methionine, cysteine, and homocysteine. Taurine supplementation may help to reduce high homocysteine levels and protect heart and vascular cells from damage.
A trial in which middle-aged women were given3g taurine daily for four weeks helped to lower average homocysteine levels from 8.5 to7.6 µmol/L.141.
Even patients with homocystinuria (a genetic disorder in which methionine cannot be processed properly) were found to benefit from taurine supplementation, showing improved vascular function.
How Long Does it Take to Lower Homocysteine Levels?
The time it takes to lower homocysteine levels depends on a variety of factors, including age, sex, family history, whether you are a smoker, and the use of certain drugs. This makes it impossible to give a specific timeframe. Previous studies have shown how supplementation with the right nutrients can lower homocysteine faster.
For example, one study found that L-5-MTHeffectively reduced total serum homocysteine levels in liver transplant recipients within just 8 weeks. The study showed a significant decrease of total homocysteine levels in the L-5-MTHF group, but no significant decrease in those taking folic acid or a placebo.
A homocysteine test is often recommended for those at high risk for heart attack or stroke. This includes people with a family history of coronary artery disease but no other known risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, or obesity. A doctor may also order a test to check for homocystinuria, or for deficiencies in vitamin B12, folate, or vitamin B6.
When beginning a B-supplement program to lower homocysteine, it’s advised to have your homocysteine levels checked again after8 weeks. If your levels remain high, a higher dose may be necessary. Your doctor may also suggest additional testing for health conditions that may be contributing to your high homocysteine levels.
Those with consistently high homocysteine should recheck their levels at least two or three times a year. If levels remain elevated despite taking folate, B6, and B12, another form of treatment may be necessary. Repeated tests of homocysteine levels are recommended.
A buildup of homocysteine is a serious health concern. If untreated, high homocysteine levels can lead to vascular damage, cognitive impairment, neurological problems, and pregnancy complications.
Normally, homocysteine is broken down by your body’s stores of vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and folate and changed into substances that your body actually needs, like methionine and SAMe.
But if the body is lacking in any of these nutrients, homocysteine won’t be converted. This results in elevated homocysteine levels and fewer of the beneficial compounds your body needs.
Whether due to genetic influences or dietary factors, homocysteine can be lowered by increasing intake of folate, vitaminB6, and B12. Other nutrients—taurine, betaine, NAC, and Omega-3 fatty acids -can also help to lower levels and support overall wellbeing.
The most efficient way to increase B-vitamin status is by supplementing with nutrients in their most bioavailable form. The Methyl-Life® product range includes methylfolate, B6, and B12 in forms that the body can absorb and use immediately, without further conversion.
Always consult with your physician before taking any supplement. Check your homocysteine levels regularly and maintain a healthy diet rich in whole foods.