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Homocysteine and Its Role in Disease

High homocysteine levels are linked with heart disease, diabetes, depression, cancer and Alzheimer's.

Homocysteine is a blood protein made by the amino acid methionine which comes from dietary protein, and is normally found in the body in small quantities. In itself, homocysteine is not bad – its function is to turn into two substances: glutathione and SAMe which are both important for the brain and body to function correctly. However, recently, high levels of homocysteine accumulated in the blood, have been linked to diseases, including depression, diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, some cancers and Alzheimer’s.

Several vitamins are needed for homocysteine to function correctly and these include the B vitamins. Another reason for high homocysteine levels is an inherited condition, the MTHFR gene mutation, which produces high levels of this amino acid. Antioxidants and methylation, the body’s ability to balance molecules, can help maintain healthy levels of homocysteine. High homocysteine levels can damage DNA, arteries and the brain.

Research at Southampton General Hospital in the UK, and published in the British Medical Journal, found that with each 5-unit (millimole/litre) increase in homocysteine, the chances of having a heart attack rose by 42 per cent in those with the MTHFR gene mutation, and 32 percent for those without it. Their conclusion: “these highly significant results indicated strong evidence that the association between homocysteine and cardiovascular disease is causal.” This not only shows that high homocysteine levels pose a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, but they actually cause it.

Average homocysteine levels are around 10 units, however an ideal level would be below six. Levels of above 15 are often noted in those with cardiovascular disease. High homocysteine levels have also been linked with some cancers. The reason for this is that cancer is triggered by damaged DNA and high homocysteine levels have been found to cause damage to DNA and weaken it. Cancers clearly linked with high homocysteine include leukemia, breast and colon cancer.

Diabetics are also at risk of having high homocysteine, due to the fact that abnormally raised insulin levels prevent the body from maintaining balanced homocysteine levels. Supplements, along with diet can correct this imbalance, and also help keep diabetes under control.

Research also suggests homocysteine is a strong factor in Alzheimer’s disease as high levels affect brain function, and have been linked to brain damage. Research cited in the New England Journal of Medicine followed 1,092 elderly patients without dementia and measured their homocysteine levels. Within eight years, 111 were diagnosed with dementia and 83 with Alzheimer’s. Those with high homocysteine levels (above 14 units) had almost double the risk.

Other findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that with every 5-unit (mmol/l) increase of homocysteine there was a 49 percent increased chance of death from all causes, a 50 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease and a 26 percent increase of dying from cancer.

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Comments (1)

Very interesting and informative share...I learned some valuable information today. Thanks for sharing your knowledge Voted

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