Homocysteine): Can levels predict life expectancy?
What if someone were to tell you that there was a measurable substance in your body that is theoretically the most important indicator of the health and adaptability of your body’s total biochemistry and your risk of degenerative diseases? Sound intriguing – that’s what is being said about Homocysteine. Recent research is discovering that high levels of homocysteine can damage arteries, the brain and DNA. Elevated homocysteine has been proven to increase the formation of plaques on blood vessel walls leading to clogging and hardening of the arteries.
David Wald and colleagues from the Department of Cardiology at Southampton General Hospital (England) published in the British Medical Journal their findings of a study conducted on 20,000 people. They concluded that there is strong evidence demonstrating a causal relationship between homocysteine and cardiovascular disease.
If you lower your homocysteine level you reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In addition, with regard to brain degeneration, studies have shown that lowering your Homocysteine levels will significantly lower your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease by at least half. It has also been shown that high levels of homocysteine causes DNA damage. Since DNA damage is a precursor to cancer, lowering your homocysteine level will reduce your risk of getting cancer. Cancers linked to high homocysteine levels include breast, colon and leukemia. Other diseases linked to high homocysteine levels include diabetes and Rheumatoid arthritis.
There are risk factors that predispose individuals to being vulnerable to high homocysteine levels, they include; genetics (One in ten people carries a genetic mutation that makes them more prone to higher homocysteine levels than others), family history heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia or diabetes, folate intake of less than 900 mcg/day, increasing age, male sex, estrogen deficiency, excessive alcohol, coffee or tea intake, smoking, lack of exercise, hostility and repressed anger, inflammatory bowel diseases, H. pylori-generated ulcers, pregnancy, vegetarian or vegan diet, high fat diet with excessive red meat, high fat dairy intake and high salt intake. Homocysteine is naturally produced in most of the body’s cells. It is derived from Methionine which is an amino acid found in dietary protein. It aids in tissue and cell growth and insulin formation and can act like growth hormone. The body turns homocysteine into glutathione and SAMe. Glutathione is the body’s most important antioxidant while SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) is a very important “intelligent” nutrient for the brain and body. Your antioxidant IQ is a measure of the glutathione and SAMe inside your cells. If you a have suboptimal amounts of B vitamins in your diet, homocysteine cannot be converted and the levels rise dangerously. The method of lowering Homocysteine involves a molecular process called “methylation”. Methylation simply means that molecules add or subtract methyl groups. Methylation processes are necessary for the body to maintain optimal chemical balance. High levels of Homocysteine can be reduced by consuming substances that will donate methyl groups. These donated methyl groups will turn toxic homocysteine into SAMe, which, as stated before, is an important nutrient for the brain. Choline and TMG (or betaine) are excellent methyl donors which help reduce high homocysteine. Choline is found in eggs and lecithin while TMG is found in sugar beets and other vegetables. In addition, three vitamins, B6, B12 and Folate are required to metabolize homocysteine.
Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway (2001) have found that with every 5-unit (mmol/l) increase in Homocysteine level you gain:
• 49% increased risk of death from all causes
• 50% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease
• 26% increased risk of death from cancer
• 10% increased risk of death from causes other than cancer or heart disease
Experts advise that keeping your homocysteine level below 6 units is ideal.Individuals with heart disease often have levels over 15 units.
Patrick Holford, the author of The New Optimum Nutrition Bible, has devised the following Homocysteine lowering diet which he calls the H Factor Diet:
• Less fatty meat and more fish and vegetable protein
• Green leafy vegetables
• Clove of garlic each day
• Reduce salt intake
• Cut back on coffee and tea
• Limit alcohol
• Reduce stress
• Stop smoking
• Correct estrogen deficiency
• Supplement a high strength multivitamin every day
Use homocysteine supplements which include the following daily: vitamins B2 (10mg), B6 (25mg), B12 (10mcg), folic acid (200 mcg), TMG( tri-methyl glycine) (500 mg), and zinc (5 mg).
Mr. Holford reports that one study showed a 60 percent decrease in homocystiene levels in only 3 weeks using above supplement/nutrient regiment.
The impact that homocysteine has on our body chemistry is a direct reflection of our overall health and impacts our longevity, therefore, it is wise to be aware of it and to take the appropriate steps required to keep levels within the recommended range.
Holford, P. (2004). The New Optimum Nutrition Bible.
California: Crossing Press
Haas, E. (2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition.
California: Celestial Artists
Schnyder G; Roffi M; Flammer Y; Pin R; Hess OM. (2002, August 28). Effect of Homocysteine-Lowering Therapy with Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B6 on Clinical Outcome After Percutaneous Coronary Intervention. JAMA, 288 (8): 973-9.