About This Condition
Homocysteine, a normal breakdown product of the essential amino acid methionine, is believed to exert several toxic effects.
A growing body of evidence suggests that an elevated homocysteine level is a risk factor for heart disease, independent of other known risk factors, such as elevated serum cholesterol and hypertension.1, 2 The evidence is not all one-sided, however. In some research the link has appeared only in women,3 and a few scientists still have doubts about the importance of elevations in homocysteine for anyone.4 The clear association between elevated homocysteine levels and heart disease reported in most studies5 does not conclusively prove that homocysteine causes heart disease. It might only be a marker for something else that is the real culprit.6 Nonetheless, many cardiologists take seriously the association between elevations in homocysteine and increased risk of heart disease.
Anger and hostility correlate with the risk of heart disease.7, 8 A preliminary study found a link between high homocysteine levels and hostility and repressed anger.9 While anger, hostility, high homocysteine, and heart disease all appear to be tied together, which of these is cause and which is effect remains somewhat unclear.
Increased homocysteine levels may also be a risk factor for the development of many other conditions, including stroke,10 thromboembolism11 (blood clots that can dislodge and cause stroke, heart attack, and other complications), osteoporosis,12Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis,13Alzheimer’s disease,14 death from diabetes,15 miscarriage,16, 17, 18, 19, 20 other complications of pregnancy,21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and hypothyroidism.26
Scientists have yet to prove that elevated homocysteine levels cause any of these diseases. However, most doctors believe that high homocysteine increases the risk of at least heart disease. Fortunately, homocysteine levels can easily be reduced with safe and inexpensive B vitamin supplementation.
Extremely high homocysteine can cause blood clots, rapid bone loss, and, in children, mental retardation. But in general, high homocysteine does not cause symptoms until and unless one of the diseases with which it is associated, appears.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
According to a recent study, both cigarette smoking and coffee consumption were associated with increased homocysteine levels.27 These findings are consistent with studies that have found both smoking and caffeine consumption to be associated with an increased risk of both cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. The link between coffee and increased homocysteine has been confirmed by some researchers,28 but not others.29
In one study, a diverse group of people participated in a week-long program that included a strict vegan diet, stress management and spirituality enhancement sessions, group support, and exclusion of tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine.30B vitamin supplements known to reduce blood homocysteine levels were not provided. After only one week in the program, the average homocysteine level fell 13%.
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.