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 doctors’ 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.
Those causes are all thought to be associated with mildly higher levels of homocysteine, which are seen in about 5 to 12 percent of the population. Very high levels are much less common, affecting only .02 percent of the population and are typically caused by a genetic disorder called homocystinuria.
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.
Regarding heart/cardiovascular issues, back in 1962, doctors found a link between high homocysteine levels and severe cardiovascular disease in people as young as their teens. They determined that a defective enzyme was causing an accumulation of homocysteine in the blood. Studies led to the discovery that there was a link between the elevated homocysteine levels and blocked arteries/blood clots in the arteries and veins. So it’s nothing to mess around with - homocysteine can be very dangerous for some.
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
Furthermore, women with high homocysteine levels usually experience more difficulty with conceiving and are at risk for repeated early miscarriages.
All that being known, elevated levels of this amino acid can play a really clutch role as a key marker for disease development, longevity and overall health throughout a person’s life. In short, it’s not good news to be diagnosed with hyperhomocysteinemia and homocystinuria...
I’m sensing/hoping there’s a “but” here.
BUT, thankfully, there are ways to detect and decrease abnormally high homocysteine levels.
Levels can be tested, and if they’re high and out of whack, there’s a course of treatment. Taking methylfolate and TMG, and to a lesser extent vitamins B6 and active B12, can lower blood homocysteine levels. A wealth of scientific studies have been done to learn more about the whole issue, and most of the studies have concluded that oral intake of L-Methylfolate is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, possibly due to the lowering of homocysteine levels.
Other nutrients have been shown to help. A good list of vitamin supplements that could be beneficial when talking about homocysteine:
- 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)
Since we, at Methyl-Life have a solid lead on managing homocysteine levels, and therefore the risks associated with elevated conditions, we, fortunately, have also developed effective vitamin supplements that contain every nutrient on the list above, plus a host of others to improve overall health and wellness, and they’re readily available to the people who need them most.
The “H words” can be bad news. But you can also turn it around and lower that homocysteine without much issue. And we think that’s pretty cool!