Homocysteine is a byproduct of a protein called methionine. In many people, homocysteine is transformed into a benign end-product that keeps levels maintained, but when homocysteine isn’t properly metabolized it builds up inside the body and acts like a toxin. This causes inflammation to rise and creates more byproducts that affect the cardiovascular, neurological and endocrine systems.
Elevated homocysteine is a common cause of inflammation of the arteries and therefore associated with heart disease. Some research suggests that about 15 percent of all heart attacks and strokes may be associated with high homocysteine levels.
Disorders that cause abnormal homocysteine levels can contribute to a wide range of other health problems, including:
Heart disease, Alzheimers, dementia, ADHD, autism and other cognitive problems. As well as migraines and headaches. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder are more common among people with high homocysteine
In children, skeletal and developmental abnormalities — including a curved spine or protruding chest and rib cage. Birth defects are also more common.
Vitamin B12, B6 and folate the key ingredients involved in balancing this process. The absorption of B12 involves a number of steps, and any of the following can cause B12 malabsorption:
Low stomach acid
Medications, especially proton pump inhibitors
Vegan / vegetarian diet
B12 is the only vitamin that contains cobalamin, a crucial ingredient in the methylation cycle. Cobalamin is produced in the gut of animals and cannot be obtained from plants or sunlight. Plants in fact contain B12 analogs called cobamides that block the intake of cobalamin as plants do not need B12 and increases the need for actual B12 in humans. This is of particular concern for children on a vegetarian or vegan diet, as wide evidence shows that kids raised without animal protein are B12 deficient even years after they start eating animal products.
Homocysteine levels are best maintained through nutritional modification. A whole food nutrition program is the most natural way to provide your body with the factors necessary moderate homocysteine. Food such as organ meats, seafood as well as lamb and eggs are the highest natural sources of these B vitamins.
However, should you have a genetic mutation that prevents this conversion it is very important to supplement your diet with a methylated form of these B Vitamins.
It’s believed that up to 40 percent of people carry a genetic MTHFR mutation and around 10 percent to 20 percent of the population might have more severe MTHFR mutations. Some people with these mutations produce fewer enzymes needed to break down homocysteine than those without MTHFR mutations.
Methylated folate is available in multiple forms, is cost effective and available from most specialist health stores and practitioners. To find out if you have an MTHFR mutation you would need to undergo a genetic test. However the more cost effective route would be motor blood homocysteine levels. If the level is elevated there is a good chance your are one of millions with the genetic variant.
Addressing gut health is another important factor in overcoming this health issue. As digestion and assimilation are often the reason for malabsorption in the first place. If you aren't breaking down nutrients in the gut there is a good chance that you will be deficient in other nutrients including iron.
Your diet can make a big impact on the severity and frequency of symptoms you experience as a side effect of having high homocysteine levels. If you consume a lot of processed foods, you’re more likely to have high homocysteine.
Regularly exercising helps mitigate problems caused by high homocysteine by improving immune function, hormonal balance, stress levels, sleep quality, body weight control and inflammation.
The same health conditions and lifestyle habits that raise homocysteine levels can also cause increased anxiety, insomnia, fatigue and depression. One of the reasons this is true is due to the effects that enzyme defects and nutrient deficiencies have on levels of neurotransmitters and hormones — like serotonin, testosterone and estrogen. These hormones govern things like sleep, sex drive, motivation and energy levels. All of these problems are also made worse by high amounts of day-to-day stress.