What is homocysteine?
If you’re like most of my clients, you’re probably sitting there thinking, “What is homocysteine? I’ve never heard of that before.” But trust me, now that we’re going to talk about it, you’re going to start hearing about it everywhere.
Homocysteine is an amino acid. We’ve talked about those a lot; amino acids are chemicals in your blood that help create proteins. They are the building blocks of life. Amino acids help to break down food, repair body tissue, are a key energy source, and are necessary for growth, to name a few.
The homocysteine and B vitamin connection
This particular amino acid is very involved with the B vitamin group. Here is how it works. Vitamins B12, B6, and folate break down homocysteine to create two substances:
- Methionine, which is an essential amino acid and antioxidant that synthesizes (or creates) proteins, and
- Cysteine, a nonessential amino acid synthesized from methionine. This amino acid reduces inflammation, increases communication between immune cells, and increases liver health.
In most of our More Than Healthy posts, we’re discussing the problem of being too low in a certain vitamin or mineral. Homocysteine is unique in that the problems occur when your levels are too high. The official term for this is hyperhomocysteinemia, often referred to as HHcy.
If you have high homocysteine levels, it may mean you have a vitamin deficiency in B12, B6, or folate, which is the natural form of vitamin B9. (Note that folic acid is the human-made form of folate.)
The danger of high homocysteine levels
Homocysteine levels naturally increase as we age. Studies find elevated homocysteine levels in almost 30% of all people older than 65, and more than 40% of those 80 or older.
If you are deficient in vitamins B6, B12, or folate, it may mean you have high homocysteine. A simple bloodtest is needed to confirm this. If you are at risk for heart disease, stroke, or heart attack, you also may want to be tested for HHcy.
David learned this earlier this year when his bloodwork showed he had a high level of homocysteine. It was interesting, because his B12 was also really high. But then we realized that yes, he was taking B12, but he wasn’t taking any B6 or folate.
This meant that even though he had plenty of B12, because he was deficient in the other two vitamins, his body was creating too much homocysteine. Too much homocysteine is not good for you.
If you’ve got too much in your system, you can experience blood clots, dementia, heart disease, osteoporosis, and stroke. Fortunately, we caught David’s early, and he has started on a homocysteine supplement to get his vitamins in balance and bring down his homocysteine levels.
Homocysteine and Alzheimer’s
You might have noticed that in many of our recent posts, we have mentioned Dr. Bredesen’s book, The End of Alzheimer’s. It’s worth all the mentions (and well worth your time to read), as he includes cutting-edge research that can help you and your loved ones avoid this vicious disease.
Dr. Bredesen talks a lot about homocysteine, because it is so linked to brain health (more about this in a minute). He wants his patients to get their levels under seven micromoles per liter (mcmol/L). David is currently testing at a 9, and he is working with our doctor to get him to 6 mcmol/L.
Four benefits of the right amount of homocysteine
Today we’re going to talk about the benefits of getting your homocysteine in line and some foods that help you do that. Because of the close connection to B vitamins, we encourage you to check out some of our previous posts on that topic.
Benefit #1: Improved brain cognition
The first benefit we want to talk about is that the right amount of homocysteine helps improve brain cognition. Dr. Bredesen talks a lot about this in all of his books. He thinks if we have high homocysteine levels, then it’s probably an early sign of cognitive decline.
One study confirmed that people with Parkinson’s disease (the disease my dad suffered with) who had cognitive decline showed increased levels of homocysteine. Another study showed that Parkinson’s patients with cognitive dysfunction typically had homocysteine levels five-points higher than normal amounts.
HHcy can have toxic effects on neurons by causing oxidative stress. This in turn leads to problems in calcium homeostasis, mitochondrial function, and many other adverse reactions. Too much homocysteine has also been shown to cause damage to vascular endothelial function and alter the permeability of the blood-brain barrier.
All those big words mean that high levels of homocysteine can cause inflammation in the brain, which can lead to cognitive impairment.
Homocysteine, B vitamins, and omega-3s
David was really concerned when he learned he had high homocysteine levels and what that meant for the brain. The good news is that we caught it early, and lowering the levels is fairly easy. Instead of taking less of the B vitamins, he needed to take more B12, B6, and folate (B9) in a balanced combination to reduce his homocysteine levels to 6 and under.
Research has also found that people using B vitamins to lower homocysteine need enough omega-3s to protect brain function. This isn’t surprising, since the brain requires DHA, an omega-3 fat, for structure and function. Some studies show that B vitamins only improve neurological function in people with higher omega-3 levels.
This is why David has also been watching his omega-3 intake. He is eating more salmon, and he will take even more omega-3 fish oil supplements if his hair analysis shows he’s not getting enough through food. We’re looking forward to his next labs to ensure he is headed in the right direction.
Benefit #2: Reduced chance of heart disease
Homocysteine is also linked to heart health. Endothelial dysfunction is the most common reason for coronary artery disease. This thin layer of cells lines the inside of blood vessels and helps keep the blood vessels open and functioning well. When dysfunction occurs, Instead of keeping them open, the cells cause your blood vessels to constrict or narrow.
The endothelium controls fluids and electrolytes in your blood, helps your body clot blood when needed, keeps toxins out of the tissues, and regulates tissue inflammation, so you can see why dysfunction in this area would increase your risk of heart disease.
Studies link high homocysteine to increased endothelial dysfunction. In one study, 70 participants undergoing coronary angiography at Kasturba Hospital showed that homocysteine is tagged as an early promoter of heart disease. In fact, patients with significantly higher homocysteine levels had the highest levels of coronary artery disease. Plus, the higher the homocysteine, the worse the case of coronary artery disease. The two seem to be directly correlated.
Reduced chance of stroke
For all the same reasons previously discussed, appropriate homocysteine levels also lower your risk of stroke. In fact, in a study of atrial fibrillation patients, they found that high homocysteine actually quadrupled the risk of stroke.
Some of you might remember that David has had tests in the past that showed he was five times more likely to have a heart attack than other men his age, so heart health is really important to us. Every year he continues to lower all his risk factors for having a heart attack with everything we’re doing, and lowering his homocysteine levels is no exception.
Benefit #3: Reduced risk of osteoporosis
Yep, I am talking about osteoporosis and bone health again. If you’ve followed us at all, you know we’re always looking for ways to improve our bone density. This is something I’m especially on the lookout for, since I have a family history of osteoporosis.
Recent studies have shown that HHcy increases oxidative stress and decreases the bioavailability of nitric oxide. This in turn contributes to a decrease in bone blood flow, thereby weakening the bones. This is what can lead to osteoporosis. This is a very oversimplified explanation of how it happens, but there is conclusive proof that HHcy is a strong risk factor for osteoporotic bone fractures.
Consider another study involving over 11,000 elderly subjects. Researchers found that each increase of 1 mcmol/L of homocysteine equaled a 1.4% increased risk of bone fracture, with the percentage of risk increasing with age.
Benefit #4: Help with migraine relief
I feel so sorry for anyone who is a frequent migraine sufferer. This can be a truly debilitating condition that is tricky to solve, and I’ve watched some of my clients suffer from migraines. Gratefully, getting their homocysteine levels down has reduced their migraines.
Migraines may be triggered by damage inflicted by elevated blood levels of homocysteine to the endothelium of blood vessels in the brain. A recent study showed a link between migraine relief and the right amount of homocysteine. Participants that were given B-complex vitamins and 5-MTHF, which is the methylated form of folate, reduced their headache frequency and pain severity.
(Interesting note: There is some interesting research available about this and the possible genetic component of migraines. Read more about this here.)
I wish more doctors ran bloodwork for their patients to see if this is a problem for them instead of just looking at a cholesterol panel. This would give them more information about what’s really going on in there if they did.
High homocysteine and high risk of mortality
In case I haven’t convinced you of the importance of homocysteine yet, here is yet another benefit of the right amount of this important amino acid. A meta-analysis conducted in 2017 found that people with high homocysteine levels had a higher all-cause mortality risk. That means HHcy equals an increased risk of death from any disease.
In fact, for every 5 mcmol/L increase in homocysteine, there is a 33.6% increase of all-cause mortality risk.
Homocysteine and hair analysis
Hair analysis is a powerful tool to help figure all of this out. To find out if you may have high homocysteine, we have to look at several different places on a hair analysis. We must see if you’re deficient in the vitamins B12, B6, and folate. Deficiency in the amino acids methionine or cysteine can also be an indicator.
We always recommend that you try to get your vitamins and minerals from whole foods whenever possible. If you are low in any of the B vitamins, including folate, the best foods to eat include:
- Greek yogurt
- Taw milk
- Pistachio nuts
- Pinto beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Brussel sprouts
- Romaine lettuce
- Beef liver
Check out Tip #38 on our website if you want more information.
To get more of the amino acid methionine in your diet, good food sources include:
- Cottage cheese
If you’re deficient in cysteine, good food sources include:
- Greek yogurt
- Sunflower seeds
If you want a quick and informative test that will tell you if you are low in those vitamins and amino acids, then get a More Than Healthy hair analysis. With just a few strands of your hair, you receive a full report looking at toxins, nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, electromagnetic frequency exposure, chemicals, radiation, parasites, immune factors, and foods you should avoid.
Go to our website to learn more. You can schedule a local hair analysis or order it online to be mailed to you today.
The right amount of homocysteine and you
As you can see, homocysteine is pretty important to our health. Did you learn anything new about this critical amino acid? Let us know – we always enjoy hearing from you.
Also, if you have questions on anything we’ve discussed or really any issue, you can go to our social media pages on Facebook or Instagram (@morethanhealthyliving). We try to respond to all questions.
We’d love to become your health coaches as you work to become “more than healthy” and achieve optimal health. Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next week.
Remember, we’re not doctors. We’re just sharing with you what’s worked for us on our health journey. You will want to consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet and supplementation.