Those who have never heard of homocysteine may wonder why they should care about their homocysteine levels. After all, isn’t homocysteine simply a naturally occurring amino acid produced by the body as part of the critical methylation process? Well, yes, but it is not one of the twenty standard amino acids considered to be the building blocks of protein. Methylation is essential for cellular function, DNA replication, embryonic growth and cellular aging. Improper methylation leads to high homocysteine levels, and that spells trouble for long term health. Homocysteine is not found in the diet but is a byproduct created during protein metabolism, an excess of which is implicated in a higher risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease and viewed as a potential predictor of Alzheimer’s disease.
When dietary proteins are metabolized, they are broken down into individual amino acids including methionine. Methionine is further broken down in multiple processes that produce homocysteine. Like most bodily processes, homocysteine metabolism is highly complex. Homocysteine is removed from the body in two ways. First by methylation, which essentially recycles homocysteine back into methionine. This process requires adequate nutrients and cofactors, specifically vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid. Secondly, with the assistance of enzymes and folic acid, homocysteine can be transformed into the amino acid cysteine, a crucial contributing factor in the production of the antioxidant glutathione.
Possible causes of high homocysteine levels include family history, diabetes, kidney and chronic inflammatory diseases, long term medications, such as birth control pills and drugs for diabetes and high cholesterol, high caffeine and alcohol intake, smoking and poor nutrition. Normal homocysteine levels fall between 4 -15 micromoles/liter. Optimal levels are below 10 -12; moderate levels 15 -30; intermediate 30 -100; and greater than 100 is considered severe. Blood levels of homocysteine are a very good indicator of overall health status. High levels of homocysteine contribute to:
- Enhanced free radical oxidation and advanced cellular aging.
- Direct damage to arterial walls, leading to thickening commonly known as atherosclerosis.
- Higher tendency to form blood clots, increasing stroke risk.
- Significantly lowered blood levels of nitric oxide, crucial to maintaining flexible arterial walls.
- Weakened immune system when conversion of homocysteine to cysteine for glutathione production is inefficient.
- Increased production of inflammatory chemicals that can cause chronic inflammation.
- Significantly increased risk of chronic health conditions.
- Increased risk of early miscarriage, premature birth and serious pregnancy complications.
- Adverse effects on brain processes, hindered brain function and increased risk of depression.
There is good news, however, in that lifestyle changes, particularly dietary improvements and a higher intake of folate, vitamins B12, B6, B2 and zinc, can be very effective in normalizing plasma homocysteine levels. Dietary improvements can include eating more high fiber, high antioxidant vegetables and fruits, consuming only healthy fats, adding in foods high in folate, B vitamins and zinc, and limiting consumption of conventionally raised animal products, caffeinated beverages and alcohol. Testing can determine the necessary dietary changes, as well as the correct supplementation regime. As homocysteine is a key marker for disease development that determines longevity and health throughout life, in the future expect to see a higher appreciation for the importance of folate, B12 and B6 to human health.
Professional Supplement Center carries these and other high quality supplements to support healthy homocysteine levels and overall good health:
Glycogenic® by Metagenics® – Glycogenics® advanced formulation provides a balanced blend of high potency B vitamins along with supportive nutrients in support of healthy homocysteine metabolism, energy metabolism and a healthy stress response. Gluten, soy and dairy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.
Homocysteine Factors by Pure Encapsulations – This product supplies folate as Metafolin®, a naturally occurring, universally metabolized, directly usable form, along with vitamins B12 and B6 in support of promoting healthy homocysteine metabolism. Gluten, soy and dairy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.
Methyl Factors by BioGenesis Nutraceuticals™ – This exclusive professional formula provides vitamins B6, B12 and folate in a unique liquid form in support of optimal homocysteine levels for cardiovascular health and proper neurological function.
TMG Powder by Bio-Nutritional Formulas – This 99% pure powdered trimethylglycine product provides naturally sourced betaine made from beets. As a natural source of methyl groups, TMG supports the conversion of homocysteine to methionine in support of cardiovascular health and longevity. Free of binders and fillers.
Methylation and Homocysteine. http://www.foodforthebrain.org/alzheimers-prevention/methylation-and-homocysteine.aspx
The Importance of Homocysteine. http://nurse-practitioners-and-physician-assistants.advanceweb.com/sharedresources/advancefornp/resources/DownloadableResources/NP050106_p31PatHandout.pdf
Homocysteine, Diet and Cardiovascular Diseases. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/99/1/178
Dietary strategies for lowering homocysteine concentrations. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/6/1448.full