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Homocysteine: a key to a healthy aging brain and healthy hearts. What is homocysteine you ask?



homocysteine-levelHomocysteine is a naturally occurring amino acid (protein) in the blood that requires  vitamin B12, folic acid, and other vitamins to be converted to another essential amino acid – methionine, which is protective of your heart. The normal role of homocysteine in the body is to control growth and support bone and tissue formation. When homocysteine levels rise, they quickly begin to damage the cells and tissues of arteries and stimulate arteriosclerotic plaque growth (hardening of the arteries).

Deficiencies in folic acid (folate), vitamin B6, vitamin B12, or betaine may lead to hyperhomocysteinemia, a medical condition characterized by high levels of homocysteine in the blood.  Cigarette smoking, caffeine and alcoholism can also raise homocysteine levels.

What health effects does high homocysteine have?  This can be one of the cause agents of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and may also increase the tendency to create blood clots. Atherosclerosis raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes.  Dr. Andrew Weil explains also that “some evidence suggests that people with high homocysteine levels have twice the normal risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.”

In a recent study, researchers from the University of Western Australia and Royal Perth Hospital recruited 358 people over the age of 50 to determine if homocysteine levels may be associated with cognitive impairment in older adults with depressive symptoms. 

The researchers found that people who had major depression and high homocysteine levels performed significantly worse on the cognitive tests. Participants who had high homocysteine levels without major depression had lower scores than those with normal homocysteine levels. Furthermore, those with high homocysteine levels were almost twice more likely to show cognitive decline on several tests.



What foods raise homocysteine levels?  A diet high in animal protein will raise homocysteine levels while plant protein foods – peas, beans and nuts – can help to lower them.  


What food lower homocysteine levels?  Interestingly, foods that are high in folate (folic acid) can help to lower homocysteine levels.  Consider adding:  chickpeas, spinach, egg yolk, parsley, pumpkin seeds, almonds, broccoli, walnuts, whole egg, avocado, oranges.  

Foods rich in Vitamin B12 can also be effective:  mackerel, salmon, trout, egg yolk, lamb, whole egg, beef, tuna, cottage cheese, chicken and cow's milk.


Are any supplements helpful?  Considering the fact that folic acid (folate) is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in the Western world, adding that would be beneficial – typically in the form of folate rather than folic acid.  Vitamins B6 and B12 will also assist in lowering high homocysteine.

Testing?  If you are at risk for heart attacks or strokes, or think you may be, ask your physician.  This is a simple blood test that most insurance plans cover.

Would it be helpful to learn a bit more to consider whether or not you are at risk?  

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RN Patient Advocates, PLC

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