Research suggests that you would be doing yourself a favor by modifying your diet to include nutrients that lower blood levels of homocysteine. High homocysteine levels may be a predictor of developing heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s and high-risk pregnancies. Homocysteine is an amino acid, a “building block” for proteins, which occurs naturally in the body. The body metabolizes the homocysteine present naturally as well as absorbed from food sources. According to the American Heart Association heat disease risk escalates when the levels exceed 10 “micomoles” per liter of blood.
For years we’ve been aware of the health risks that accompany high cholesterol and current research shows homocysteine may be equally important to monitor. “Some call homocysteine the ‘new’ cholesterol,” stated Dr. Donald W. Jacobsen, laboratory director for homocysteine research at the Cleveland Clinic. Similar to cholesterol, excessive homocysteine in the body damages blood vessels and contributes to the narrowing of arteries, including vital arteries that circulate within the heart and brain.
Three B vitamins are crucial to keeping homocysteine levels under control. Folate, B6 and B12 work to break down homocysteine levels and maintain healthy blood levels of the substance. The American Heart Association reported that a significant portion of the population fails to consume adequate levels of these vitamins. Recommended dietary intake of folate is 400 micrograms a day, which can be met by including foods like pasta (1 cup = 80), chickpeas (1 cup = 141) and leafy green vegetables (1 cup spinach = 131). B6 recommendations fall between 1.3 to 1.7 milligrams depending on age & sex and good sources are baked potatoes with the skin (0.7), non-citrus fruits like bananas (0.7), meat (3oz.beef = 0.4) and poultry (3oz. = 0.5). B12 recommendations are 2.4 micrograms and the best sources are beef (3oz. = 2.1), poultry (3oz. = 0.3), fish (3oz. tuna = 2.5) and dairy products (1 cup yogurt = 1.0).
Not only are the B vitamins essential to maintaining healthy levels of homocysteine, they are also vital to energy production. Coenzyme A, a substance which initiates production of 90% of the body’s energy at the cellular level is made by pantethenic acid, ATP and cysteine, which is produced through the metabolic intermediate homocysteine. Folic acid and B6 help convert amino acids into cysteine; B6 deficiency renders the body unable to convert homocysteine to cysteine. Without cysteine the body cannot make Coenzyme A, therefore it cannot produce energy at the cellular level efficiently.
The American Heart Association advises those with high levels of homocysteine to include a multivitamin in their diet. Supplementing the diet with a good multivitamin will ensure you receive adequate amounts of the B vitamins. One large study found that nurses who included multivitamins in their diet lowered their risk of having a heart attack by 25%. “Assuming that lowering homocysteine decreases heart disease mortality, vitamin therapy may avoid 13,500 to 50,000 coronary heart disease deaths per year,” according to Dr. M. Rene Malinow, professor of medicine at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Beaverton.
Ideally consuming a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to meet vitamin requirements. However, as we age, a significant portion of the population develops atrophic gastritis, a condition of diminished stomach acid, which damages the body’s ability to absorb naturally occurring B12. To remedy the problem, The National Academy of Sciences recommends that all adults over the age of 50 take a supplement that contains B12 or eat foods fortified with the nutrient. The body is able to assimilate vitamin or fortified forms of B12 despite inadequate stomach acid.
Individuals in high-risk categories for Alzheimer’s or heart disease may want to invest in getting medical tests done (from $50-$150) to see if they have unhealthy amounts of homocysteine in their body. It is advised that the rest of the population focus on consuming adequate amounts of B vitamins or take a supplement which provides 100% of the Recommended Dietary intake.
Sources: Toledo Blade
San Francisco Gate