Despite education about the importance of diet and exercise and the prevalent use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, annual deaths caused by stroke and heart disease are astounding. Each year, 140,000 people in the United States die from stroke. In addition, someone dies of heart disease every 34 seconds (making it the leading cause of death), and some 76 million people over age 20 suffer high blood pressure. Consider, too, that many who are diagnosed with heart disease do not have elevated cholesterol levels. There must be another marker to test for these deadly diseases. And there is: homocysteine. In fact, testing for elevated homocysteine levels is better than 40 percent more accurate at predicting heart disease than checking for cholesterol.
Homocysteine is an amino acid. When it is not metabolized properly, it can accumulate in the bloodstream and become toxic to your system. It does this by generating free radicals, spurring unwanted blood clotting and deep vein thrombosis. This can cause arterial damage, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke.
It is essential that you keep homocysteine levels within a healthy range. From a simple blood test, your primary care physician can find your numbers. Here are the basics:
Risk Categories And Fasting Homocysteine Levels:
- Healthy = <6
- Low Risk = 6-9
- Moderate Risk = 9-12
- High Risk = 12-15
- Very High Risk = 15-20
- Extremely High = >20
From a broader perspective, elevated homocysteine levels can lead to a host of diseases and conditions. These include: hypothyroidism, type 2 diabetes, migraine headaches, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, magnesium depletion, erectile dysfunction, leukemia, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, depression, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
When Levels Rise
If your homocysteine levels are high, there are several reasons why this may be the case. To begin, low thyroid hormone levels can cause homocysteine levels to increase. So can kidney disease; psoriasis; excess consumption of drinks like tea, coffee and alcohol; stress; and insulin-resistance syndrome. Lack of key B vitamin nutrients is a main factor. B vitamin deficiency hampers your body’s efficiency at metabolizing homocysteine.
Lower Homocysteine Naturally
Along with embarking on specific dietary and supplement changes, you should get your homocysteine levels checked. A healthcare professional should also assess your current status or risk of insulin resistance (metabolic syndrome), kidney disease and psoriasis.
The simple way to lower your levels of homocysteine or to prevent it from rising in the first place is to moderate your consumption of alcohol and caffeinated beverages such as tea and coffee.
Increasing your intake of vitamins B6, B9 and B12 is essential. This can be done through taking supplements daily. A more powerful way is to use supplementation along with dietary changes that include increasing consumption of foods rich in B vitamins. Such foods include: beef, enriched or fortified cereals, dairy products, eggs, fish, fruits, liver, peas, pork, poultry, rice, shellfish, spinach, sunflower seeds and walnuts.
Stress reduction is also important. Use psychological tools like NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), EFT (emotional freedom technique), EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing); do mind/body exercises like yoga, tai chi and qigong; and get deep, restful sleep.
A Lot At Stake
I find it interesting and disturbing that with so much at stake (an increased risk of serious disease and death), testing for homocysteine levels is not a mandatory part of annual or biannual blood work and physicals. Ask your healthcare provider for a test, and get a real assessment of your risk for heart disease and stroke. And don’t forget to eat a healthy diet and reduce stress levels. Doing so is necessary for everyone.