Homocysteine and Heart Disease
Homocysteine is an amino acid found in the blood. Elevated levels of Homocysteine in the blood has been linked to thickening of arteries, blood clots and cardio vascular disease. While the link between elevated homocysteine level and heart disease has not been conclusively proven (at least to the satisfaction of the American Heart Association), some cardiologists and researchers continue to support the case linking elevated homocysteine with heart disease. At the moment, the general consensus does not support Homocysteine screening for heart disease. Nevertheless it is an area that is getting increasing attention in recent years with continuing research going into this area.
Reasons for elevated homocysteine
High levels of Homocysteine in the blood are caused by dietary factors and genetic factor. Elevated homocysteine caused by genetic disorder is known as homocystinuria. Even though it is rare, it still does occur. People with this genetic disorder lack an essential mediator molecule in the blood that is necessary to break down homocysteine pathways. A person suffering from this condition will have a number of symptoms which include visual problems, thin bones, blood clots and atherosclerosis.
People who do not consume enough B vitamins are also likely to have elevated homocysteine. This is usually treated with folic acid. A doctor will advise you on the right amount to consume per day and it will effectively lower the levels of homocysteine in blood.
Other things that may cause homocysteine elevation include stress and too much consumption of coffee. Those who consume a lot of coffee daily are likely to have high levels of homocysteine. Medication for various diseases related to the kidneys and psoriasis can also cause increased levels of this amino acid.
How Does Homocysteine Increase the Risk of Heart Disease?
The medical community is still divided on its opinion on this matter. It is not a given fact that homocysteine actually does increase the risk of heart and blood vessel disease, but there is a growing body of cardiologists and researchers who say that there does seem to be a link between high levels of this amino acid and damage to the arteries, which eventually leads to hardening of the arteries and blood clots. More research needs to be done on the topic to determine the exact connection between cardiovascular disease and homocysteine, but there is definitely some evidence to suggest that elevated homocysteine promotes atherosclerosis (fatty deposits in blood vessels) thereby causing damage to arteries.
Should you screen for homocysteine?
Presently, there is no global endorsement for regularly checking homocysteine levels. Plus the test is still pretty costly; it isn’t widely available, and most insurance companies won’t cover it. However, doctors may order blood test to detect vitamin B12 deficiency or folic acid deficiency, when treating for a rare disease known as homocystinuria (a genetic metabolic disorder that produces excessive homocysteine amino acid) and to help find a cause for unexplained blood clots.
If you know that you are going to have this test done you should not eat or drink anything, with the exception of water, for 8 hours before the test.
Also, there are medicines which may affect the results of this test. So you should make certain that you inform your doctor about all the drugs you may be taking at the time you go for a test.
How Can High Homocysteine Levels Be Prevented?
Individuals who have high homocysteine levels should make an effort to increase their intake of B vitamins. These are present in many fruits, green, leafy vegetables, and grain products fortified with folic acid. They also have to reduce meat in their diet to lower this amino acid in their body.
Lowering homocysteine with folic acid and B-Vitamins
It has been proven that folic acid, vitamin B-6 and Vitamin B-12 help reduce homocysteine levels in the blood. It is best if Folic acid, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12 are got from dietary sources. That is why many food manufacturers add B-vitamins and folic acid in items like cereals, flour, pasta, breads, bakery items, biscuits etc. Foods that have a lot of folic acid include spinach, lettuce and broccoli, okra, asparagus, fruits (such as lemons, melons, and bananas), beans, mushrooms, meat (beef liver and kidney), tomato and orange juice.
Folic acid deficiency is when the levels of folic acid in the blood are too low, and resulting problems from the condition include anemia and the inability of the bowel to absorb nutrients.
Although strong research evidence is still lacking linking homocysteine to heart disease, people who are at high risk due to elevated homocysteine are better off taking Folic acid and vitamin B-6 and B-12 preferably from food sources.