WHAT IS HOMOCYSTEINE?
Homocysteine is an amino acid that our body makes from a dietary protein called Methionine. Methionine is found in many of the protein-dense foods that we eat on a regular basis like meat, eggs, fish, seeds, nuts, etc.
Homocysteine functions as an intermediary protein. It is part of the route that the amino acid Methionine must take to become the antioxidant Glutathione. It is also a key part of the Methylation Cycle, which is an important biochemical pathway that occurs in every one of our cells and contributes to many critical bodily functions.
Homocysteine can be converted back to Methionine, converted into Glutathione or converted into S-adenosyl L-Methionine. Each molecule, in balance, is essential in maintaining good health via the methylation process.
Elevated Homocysteine levels however can have several negative health implications, so it is in our best interest to keep it at optimum levels.
IF I HAVE A HIGH A HOMOCYSTEINE LEVEL, WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Homocysteine levels may not always be checked during routine medical check-ups, however the test is easily available.
If your levels are high it significantly increases the risk of coronary vascular disease as the fragile inner lining of the artery called the endothelium, can be damaged.
Homocysteine-induced injury to the arterial walls is one of the factors that can initiate the process of atherosclerosis and eventually to heart attacks and strokes. It has been recognized as an independent risk factor for heart disease just as smoking or obesity has.
The test for high Homocysteine can be done alone or in combination with other more specific vascular cardiology testing. At Elements Medical Fitness it is a routine part of our checkups.
DOES MY DIET, LIFESTYLE AND NUTRITION AFFECT HOMOCYSTEINE?
Many factors contribute to high homocysteine levels and everything revolves around our diet and lifestyle. Factors that increase your risk of high Homocysteine levels include:
- Nutrition deficiency of activated folate, vitamin B6, activated vitamin B12, betaine, vitamin B2, and magnesium.
- High-methionine diet (including too much red meat and dairy products)
- Alcohol consumption
- Advancing age
- Genetic mutations
- Excess heavy metals especially mercury
- Certain medications.
WHAT DO I NEED TO DO IF MY LEVELS ARE HIGH?
If your levels are high, there may be many factors that contribute to it. It is always a wise decision to start with lifestyle and general diet first, even before looking at nutritional interventions.
Steps you can take include:
- Reduce Methionine-rich foods like red meat and dairy products if there is over consumption.
- Exercise is important. Patients in a cardiac exercise rehabilitation program, with specified targeted goals, showed a reduction in homocysteine from exercise alone.
- Decrease alcohol consumption and eliminate smoking.
Once the above is in progress, then a finer look at the biochemistry of nutrition is required. Our bodies can only function well with the correct amount of nutrition in a usable form, so the correct biochemical support is essential.
Homocysteine is dependent on 3 special vitamins – the activated forms of Folate, B12 and Vitamin B6.
Other critical nutrients like N-Acetyl Cysteine Trimethylglycine, Choline, Methionine, Taurine and Serine are critical to keep the Methylation Cycle moving without a hitch.
If the homocysteine levels are not improving with diet and targeted nutrition, then testing for genetic mutations and heavy metals should be considered.
DO MY GENES PLAY A ROLE HERE?
Yes, our genes do play a significant role. At present a lot of research looks at how small genetic changes called ‘Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms’ or SNP’s for short can affect our health.
It’s been discovered that a certain SNP on the gene MTHFR C677T can make it difficult to convert the vitamins we eat (whether from food or supplements) into their active forms. In this case we’re concerned about Folic Acid and Vitamin B12.
If you carry these genetic changes (and its estimated that 50% of us do have the change in at least one of our two copies of that gene) then your Methylation Cycle will have some impairment which can lead to an accumulation of Homocysteine. Since these vitamins play many roles in our body from energy production to building red blood cells, other areas of the body could be suffering from a relative lack of those same vitamins, despite eating a healthy diet.
If you have a difficult time decreasing your homocysteine level, or they are extremely elevated, consider getting yourself tested for the common gene change found in the gene MTHFR C677T.
IF I HAVE INHERITED THE GENE FOR HIGH LEVELS, WHAT CAN I DO?
If tested positive for the MTHFR C677T gene polymorphism, this would mean you have inherited either one copy from one parent or both copies from both parents, preventing you from converting Folates / Folic Acid and B12 into their active form with 100% efficiency.
In this case, Folic Acid and B12 supplements need to be taken in their activated forms. In this way the genetic change is rendered insignificant since you now have activated Folate and B12 ready for use. This ensures the Methionine Cycle now works well, and so homocysteine levels should fall to normal.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF REDUCING HOMOCYSTEINE TO OPTIMAL LEVELS?
With the methylation process and Methionine pathways properly functioning stress on the endothelium, including the blood vessels of the heart and brain is reduced helping to prevent degenerative changes.
Numerous studies have shown the importance of lowering homocysteine in conditions like heart disease and Alzheimers.
In addition if your homocysteine levels are normal, it is indicative that your body has enough activated B12 and folate in order to do its job. It is not a gold star measure of your vitamin stores, but indicative that your body has enough to enable proper functioning of those pathways which depend on them.
If you’re concerned about your heart health, or want to know more about whether you need to be tested for Homocysteine or other risk factors for heart disease, contact us at Elements Medical Fitness.