Amino acids are required for all proteins in your body. Homocysteine is an amino acid that you produce in your body. Under normal conditions, it is completely converted into two other amino acids. This conversion is accomplished primarily by folic acid, and secondarily by vitamin B6 and B12. If your diet is deficient in any of these nutrients, then homocysteine levels can increase. High levels of homocysteine are not desirous.
Medical researchers have found that as homocysteine levels increase, the severity of the coronary blockages increases. Coronary blockages restrict the blood supply to your heart muscles and increase your probability of a heart attack. Likewise, coronary blockages in your brain can lead to a stroke.
High levels of homocysteine can contribute to atherosclerosis. Abnormally high levels of homocysteine have been shown to be corrosive to certain functional proteins in your arteries. High levels of homocysteine also degrade and inhibit the formation of three main structural components in your artery – collegen, elastin and proteoglycans.
A blood test is used to determine the level of homocysteine present in your body. Normal levels of homocysteine are less than 15 micromoles per liter. I’ve seen some recommendations for your normal range to be less than 11 micromoles per liter. Readings in the 15-30 micromoles per liter range are considered moderate. The intermediate range is 30-100 micromoles per liter. Severe levels are defined as greater than 100 micromoles per liter.
Homocysteine is broken down by folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12. Treatment is fairly simple. Consume more folic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12. Fruits and leafy green vegetables are good sources of the nutrients necessary to lower your homocysteine levels. Additionally, some cereals have been fortified with folates.
Vitamin B6 can be found in fortified breakfast cereals, potatoes, bananas, chicken and some kinds of beans (garbanzo, for example).Vitamin B12 sources include dairy products, organ meats (liver), beef and some kinds of fish.
It is possible that diet might not be effective to reduce your elevated homocysteine levels to the normal range. Studies have shown that most doctors would probably recommend a folate supplement along with an increased dosage of vitamin B6 and B12.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) daily recommended dose of folic acid is 1 milligram per day; for vitamin B6 is 10 milligrams per day, and for vitamin B12 is 1/2 milligram per day.
There is no direct proof that folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 can prevent heart attacks and strokes. But, studies with a large population of women have shown interesting results. Those women consuming higher levels of folic acid had fewer heart attacks compared to those women consuming minimal amounts of folic acid.Comparative studies with folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 indicate that folic acid is the predominant nutrient. Another recent study followed 80,000 women for 14 years and found collaborating results. Heart attacks were lower in the group taking multivitamins and folic acid.
Some doctors believe that elevated levels of homocysteine in your blood are as important as high levels of cholesterol. Cholesterol and homocysteine operate independently of each other, but 10-20% of coronary heart disease has been attributed directly to elevated levels of homocysteine.
Elevated homocysteine levels may contribute to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. How can you take effective preventive action if you don’t know your homocysteine level? It is not a test that your doctor will schedule without reviewing your medical history and risk factors for heart attack and stroke. There is no official recommendation as to who should get tested and how often. However, it’s a relatively inexpensive blood test (around $50) and I add it to my annual physical.
There are at least nine well-known risk factors can help predict the risk of heart attack and stroke: heredity, being male, advancing age, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity (especially excess abdominal fat), lack of physical activity, and abnormal blood cholesterol levels.
Several of the risk factors identified above can be controlled by your behavior – exercise, diet, cigarette smoking, maintaining proper weight, etc. Heredity, age, and gender are not controllable. But, you are responsible for your health. Know what you risk factors are and take the necessary actions to reduce any controllable risk. A homocysteine level blood test is one of several potentially life-saving tests for your consideration.