By Mila McManus M.D.
Do you know your homocysteine level? If not, ask your healthcare provider to order it. Homocysteine levels can be measured with a simple blood test at most laboratories. High homocysteine levels indicate inflammation, probable nutrient deficiencies, and or a genetic defect. Persistently high levels can suggest B vitamin deficiencies, signs of possible heart disease or stroke risk, potential Alzheimer’s risk, and other neurological concerns.
Many foods we eat have an amino acid called methionine, such as nuts, beef, lamb, cheese, turkey, pork, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy, and beans. Methionine is converted in the body to homocysteine, which in turn is converted back to methionine, or to cysteine, another important amino acid. This cycle requires adequate levels of vitamin B₁₂, vitamin B₆, folate and the modified amino acid called betaine. Many people, however, often don’t, which allows homocysteine to build up, damaging your blood vessels and brain.
Reasons for elevated homocysteine levels include:
- Poor dietary habits
- Smoking or drug use
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Genetic variants, such as MTHFR
Natural ways to lower homocysteine levels include:
- Improve your diet, avoiding gluten, sugar, preservatives, refined oils, and processed foods.
- Exercise regularly.
- Manage stress with, e.g., meditation, yoga, and energy therapies. (stress depletes B vitamins!)
- Supplement with high quality B vitamins and antioxidants.
- Avoid recreational drugs and reduce or eliminate alcohol.
- Work to improve quality of sleep.
Discuss checking this important marker with your provider. In the meantime, work on ways to protect yourself. Nutrition help is also available at TWIHW. Be well!