During one of your exams you may have discovered that you have an elevated level of homocysteine. Homocysteine is a blood marker that helps us to measure the inflammation that’s going on inside of your body. This inflammation can lead to multiple degenerative problems, especially cardiovascular disease.
Some physicians have even said that the number-one risk factor for heart disease is high homocysteine levels.1 High homocysteine does damage within your cardiovascular system by damaging the lining of your arteries, called endothelium. Over time, this damage can result in a blockage, blocking blood flow within your body.
Another damaging effect of high homocysteine is that it shortens your telomeres. Telomeres have been discussed in earlier blog articles. The shorter the telomeres in your body, the faster you age. High homocysteine in your blood have been shown to triple the speed at which your telomeres shorten.2
One of the ways that homocysteine shortens telomeres is by preventing telomerase from working. Without telomerase, your body cannot naturally lengthen your telomeres. Telomerase is the enzyme your body uses to rebuild the telomere as they shorten with age. Thus, not only does high homocysteine damage telomeres, it also prevents the rebuilding of telomeres, or a double whammy effect.
Short telomeres are very prevalent in people with heart disease. In fact, researcher have found that having critically short telomeres is now considered an independent risk factor for heart disease.3
In a study published in the medical journal The Lancet, researchers found an association between short telomeres and atherosclerosis.4 The people with short telomeres had a buildup of plague within their arteries which was considered an accelerated form of aging. They found that this buildup of plaque, i.e. atherosclerosis, correlated to arteries that acted 8.6 years older.
Another study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, discovered that people with heart failure had telomeres that were 40% shorter than normal.5
Moreover, high homocysteine levels can cause an increased risk of strokes as well as heart attacks.6
Thus, it is important to reduce elevated levels of homocysteine. There are easy natural way to help reduce your homocysteine levels and keep them in check. In so doing, you may protect yourself from heart disease and possibly stroke.
One of the easiest treatments for elevated homocysteine levels is taking extra B vitamins. Specifically to increase your B6, B9, and B12 levels. B6 is also called pyridoxine, B9 is also called folic acid or folate, and B12 is called cobalamine. They all are necessary to help convert homocysteine into its safer metabolites methionine and cysteine, the good guys. Folic acid has also been shown to help restore the action of telomerase, thus counteracting the worst effect of homocysteine.7
Methionine and cysteine are amino acids and are some of the building blocks of protein. Your body normally converts homocysteine to these amino acids when the levels get high. However, without adequate levels of B vitamins in your system, your body can’t do this conversion, resulting in a backup increase in homocysteine levels. Subsequently, this overload of homocysteine can result in the damaging effects to your endothelium and worsening atherosclerosis or heart disease.
You can boost your B vitamins in several ways. One easy way is to just take a high potency B vitamin complex that contains all the B vitamins in high dose. You want to make sure you have especially high amounts of B6, B9 and B12.
Another way to boost your B vitamins and reduce your homocysteine levels is to eat foods high in these vitamins. This chart gives you some examples:
- Vitamin B6 is in eggs, chicken, liver, fish, bananas, lima beans and walnuts. Take at least 25 mg per day to supplement.
- Vitamin B9 is in eggs, beef, lamb, pork, chicken liver, green leafy vegetables, and salmon. Take at least 800 mcg per day to supplement.
- Vitamin B12 is in eggs, beef, lamb, herring, mackerel, liver, oysters, poultry, and clams. Take at least 500 mcg per day to supplement.
An amino acid that helps turn homocysteine into methionine is choline. Choline is essential in the process of breaking down homocysteine into helpful amino acids like methionine. Choline is also important for boosting brain function.
Research has shown that the more choline you have, the lower your homocysteine will be.8 In one study, people who took in the most choline had almost 10% lower homocysteine.9
The best way to get more choline is to eat more animal meats and eggs. Other sources of choline include cod, cauliflower, avocados, and bananas.
You can also take supplements to boost your choline levels. Even if you ingest a lot of choline, this produces no unwanted side effects. Try to ingest at least 425 mg of choline a day for women and 550 mg for men.
Although there have been a study that have not shown a reduction in cardiovascular problems by reducing homocysteine using the B vitamins above,10 the study only lasted 5 years and had some other flaws. Some comments on this is that the people with high homocysteine in the study already had vascular or cognitive impairment, suggesting that “higher homocysteine levels may be a consequence rather than a cause of disease.11
Other studies have shown that homocysteine promotes atherosclerosis through fibrin deposition, oxidant stress, cytokine release, inflammation and other mechanisms.13 The author suggests that the “dramatic decline in cardiovascular mortality in the United States since 1950 may possibly be attributable in part to voluntary fortification of the food supply with vitamin b-6 and folic acid.”
Therefore, it’s best to be proactive and prevent degenerative problems like heart disease because once you get them, it’s hard to reverse them. If you want long term health, supplement with B vitamins to help reduce elevated homocysteine levels.
1. Levy D, Hwang S, et. al. “Associations of plasma natriuretic peptide, adrenomedullin, and homocysteine levels with alterations in arterial stiffness: the Framingham Heart Study,” Circulation 2007; 115(24):3079-85
2. Richards J, et. al. “Homocysteine levels and leukocyte telomere length.” Atherosclerosis. 2008;200(2):271-7.
3. Zhang W, Hui R, Yang S. “Telomeres, cardiovascular aging, and potential intervention for cellular senescence.” Sci China Life Sci. 2014;57(8):858-62.
4. Samani NJ, et al. “Telomere shortening in atherosclerosis.” Lancet. 2001;358(9280):472-3.
5. van der Harst P, et al. “Telomere length of circulating leukocytes is decreased in patients with chronic heart failure.” J Am Coll Cardiol. 2007; 49(13):1459-64.
6. McCarty M, Thomas C. “The Vascular Toxicity of Homocysteine and How to Control It.” Linus Pauling Inst. lpi.oregonstate.edu. Retrieved Nov 6, 2014.
7. Zhang D, Wen X, Wu W, Xu E, Zhang Y, Cui W. “Homocysteine-related hTERT DNA demethylation contributes to shortened leukocyte telomere length in atherosclerosis.” Atherosclerosis. 2013;231(1):173-9.
8. Imbard A, et. al. “Plasma choline and betaine correlate with serum folate, plasma S-adenosyl-methionine and S-adenosyl-homocysteine in healthy volunteers.” Clin Chem Lab Med. 2013;51(3):683-92.
9. Lee J, Jacques P, Dougherty L, Selhub J, Giovannucci E, Zeisel S, Cho E. “Are dietary choline and betaine intakes determinants of total homocysteine concentration?” Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(5):1303-10.
10. Lonn, Eva, et al., “Homocysteine Lowering with Folic Acid and B Vitamins in Vascular Disease”, NEJM, 2006; 354:1567-1577, April 13, 2006.
11. Anton, JM, et al., “Homocysteine, B Vitamins, and Cardiovascular Disease”. NEJM 2006; 355:205-211, July 13, 2006.
12. McCully, KS; “Homocysteine, vitamins and vascular disease prevention 1’2’3”, Amer J of Clin Nutrition; 86 (suppl):1563S-1568S, 2007.