Homocysteine is an important indicator of cardiovascular health. High levels of homocysteine in the blood have been liked to increased risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, and venous blood clots even among people with normal cholesterol levels. Abnormal homocysteine levels contribute to atherosclerosis by damaging the cells lining the inside of the arteries which leads to the formation of plaque. Homocysteine also results in accelerated production of collagen, which causes the plaque to increase in size.
Homocysteine is a sulfur containing amino acid that is naturally synthesized in the body. It is normally broken down into useful components. If certain enzymes and cofactors are not present in the body, homocysteine cannot be properly metabolized. The absence of these substances may be due to genetic defects, but more commonly are related to dietary deficiencies in specific B vitamins such as B-6, B-12, and folic acid.
There are many studies that show a clear association between elevated homocysteine levels and both heart attack and stroke. There are also several studies that show a correlation between normal homocysteine levels and consumption of folic acid and vitamin B-6. One particular study followed 101 men with vascular disease for 4 years. All participants were given supplementary doses of folic acid, B-6 and B-12. Ultrasound examinations of their carotid arteries found a decrease in the amount of plaque in their arteries, with the greatest effect in those whose homocysteine levels had been the highest before the treatment began.
Excess homocysteine is indicated in conditions other than coronary artery disease. These include osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and type II diabetes.
For those of you who have been following my recent articles relating to neurological health, homocysteine is key predictor for things like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Homocysteine levels can be tested thru routine blood work - if you have not had yours tested, it is worth doing so at least once so you know if it is something you need to keep an eye on - or not.
Supplementation of folic acid, B-6, and B-12 does seem to be effective at improving the homocysteine pathway in the body. Here is a brief review of the benefits of these supplements:
• B6 has many functions. It is especially important in the function of the central nervous system. Symptoms of deficiency include tremors, skin diseases, carpal tunnel syndrome, motion sickness, tendency towards fainting and arteriosclerosis.
• Folic acid is B9. It is very closely linked to B12 or cobalamin. Both are important to energy and an overall feeling of wellbeing. Symptoms of deficiency include anemia, fatigue, general weakness, nerve problems and difficulty with muscular coordination.
If you have elevated homocysteine, you may be deficient in some key nutrients that will not only help your homocysteine levels, but your neurological system as well. There are combination supplements available at your local health food store.
Margaret Durst owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas. www.naturalcowgirl.wordpress.com