Homocysteine and Cardiovascular Health

Homocysteine and Cardiovascular Health

In terms of cardiovascular health, most people are aware of high cholesterol and high blood pressure, but there is another more insidious factor that is at least as dangerous as high cholesterol and yet most people haven’t even heard of it.  Homocysteine is a natural substance made by the body; however, many people lack the enzyme to break it down completely.  Excess levels of the protein homocysteine can seriously damage the linings of the arteries and are a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Homocysteine is made from protein in the diet.  The amino acid methionine is converted into homocysteine in the body, and provided there is enough vitamin B 6, B12 and folic acid, the body will convert it to cystanthionine.  Lifestyle factors such as smoking, inactivity, and lack of the cofactors for this conversion means that blood levels of homocysteine can rise.  It is now well known that homocysteine is very toxic and can cause the initial damage to the artery wall that starts the whole process of cardiovascular disease.

A study carried out by the European Concerted Action group studied 750 people under the age of 60 with atherosclerosis, compared with 800 people without such cardiovascular disease. They found that having a high level of homocysteine in the blood was as great a risk to health as having high blood cholesterol levels.  20% of people tested had double the risk of cardiovascular disease because of high homocysteine levels.  They also found that those taking vitamin supplements [B6, B12 and folic acid] reduced their risk to a third of those not taking supplements.

There is no doubt that homocysteine has a role to play in cardiovascular disease.  Those most at risk are high protein [meat] eaters with poor intake of B6, B12 and folic acid.

Homocysteine levels

Homocysteine is measured in mmol.l.  it was formerly believed that a high homocysteine level was above 15 units.  But now, levels as low as 7 units are being linked to increase risks of disease.  Ideally homocysteine levels should be below 6 units.  Considering the average level in Britain is 10.5 there is a lot of work to do!