Homocysteine is a marker that can be measured on a blood test. In the medical world it is used to help assess cardiovascular risk, if suspected. Additionally, high homocysteine levels are inflammatory and are also associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A blood level of over 14 may double one’s risk of dementia. That is because high homocysteine levels can damage the brain. According to some, anything above 7 is less then ideal and may be associated with a risk and could be contributing to inflammation.
From a nutritional point of view, a homocysteine level can be a helpful addition when assessing the overall picture of one’s health. Moderately high levels may indicate inflammation, poor gut function, or most likely poor “methylation”.
Methylation is very important. It is a process by which genes are turned on and off. If methylation is out of balance, various functions in the body can be out of balance as well. Examples are detoxification, immunity, metabolism, etc. The vitamin compound folate, as well as vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 are key players in keeping methylation running and homocysteine in check.
Therefore, eating adequate dietary folates, found in foods such as dark leafy greens and beans, is very important. This is especially true for people that have a genetic polymorphism (SNP) in a gene that regulates methylation of folate, the MTHFR gene.
Methylation can support your metabolism and weight. This is because it helps produce a compound called carnitine, a compound that helps the body to utilize fat for fuel. I have noticed that once certain individuals start eating their leafy greens daily (which contain the natural folates that support methylation), they start to lose weight and have more energy. This could be why.
Do B vitamin supplements help to reduce disease risk? Some studies have suggested little to no benefit, while others have shown promise. Supplementation with B vitamins has been shown to reduce the acceleration of brain atrophy in people with mild cognitive impairment.
If you have read some of my previous blogs, you know about glutathione and how important optimal levels in the body can be for your health. Having an elevated homocysteine may indicate a less then optimal glutathione level in your body. That is because the homocysteine may not be getting converted over into glutathione properly.
Conversely, you don’t want homocysteine levels too low. A low homocycsteine can be just as bad as a high one. If someone is vegan or vegetarian, it is important they get enough amino acids, such as methionine and cysteine, whether dietary or supplement.