Understanding Homocysteine

What is Homocysteine?
Simply stated, it’s an amino acid. Our bodies are built on proteins, and the building blocks of all proteins are amino acids. Methionine, an essential amino acid derived from dietary protein, is the source of all homocysteine found in our bodies. In the liver, methionine is continuously converted to homocysteine, and back again to methionine. This reversible cycling of these two amino acids is dependent upon vitamins B12 and folic acid. Deficiencies of either of these vitamins can lead to an unhealthful accumulation of homocysteine. A second irreversible process converts homocysteine to cysteine, which can then be excreted in the urine. This process is dependent upon the help of yet another vitamin, B6. Once again, a deficit in B6 can lead to a build up of too much homocysteine.

Why Decrease Homocysteine Levels?
Research demonstrates that elevated homocysteine is associated with an increased risk of developing several devastating illnesses including heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration, and osteoporotic bone fractures. The reason high homocysteine levels predispose to the development of these ailments is being carefully evaluated by our top scientists and doctors; it is felt that several mechanisms are at work. Homocysteine can directly damage our arteries’ inner linings, leading to the build up of plaque and blood clots. It can also oxidize LDL cholesterol, making this type of fat more likely to cause coronary and carotid artery disease. High homocysteine levels also block our body’s natural ability to break down clots. Thus, when clots do form in the arteries feeding our brains and hearts, high homocysteine levels make it harder for our bodies to dissolve them before they totally block the flow of oxygen to these vital organs, causing strokes and heart attacks. It has even been shown that when homocysteine levels are high DNA damage can occur in brain cells, causing their premature death.

What You Can Do
First of all, life style changes can help. Quitting smoking, decreasing caffeine consumption, exercising more, and eating less can all help lower homocysteine levels. Supplementation with vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid can also help reduce homocysteine levels to a normal range.  At times, additional supplementation with N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is indicated to help bring down homocysteine levels as well.  Currently, studies are being conducted to evaluate the long-term benefits of diminishing homocysteine levels to normal. It is hoped that normalization of these levels in patients with high blood homocysteine will help reduce the incidence of heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, and even osteoporotic fractures.

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One Comment

  1. Kayleigh June 5, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    Surprisingly well-written and informative for a free online article.

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