Homocysteine is a byproduct of methionine metabolism. It is thus a normal, common substance that is produced regularly, but also has to be broken down sufficiently. High levels of homocysteine in the blood may lead to damage to the collagen structure of blood vessels. There is a direct relationship between elevated homocysteine levels and increased risk of atherosclerosis.
Vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid (B9) play an important role in homocysteine breakdown. Betaine is an important contributor as well. Elevated homocysteine levels are generally observed when at least one of the three B vitamin levels is low.
And vitamin B deficiencies are more common than the media would have you believe:
- approximately 80% of older adults lack adequate folic acid;
- another approximately 20% do not get enough vitamin B6 or vitamin B12 through their regular diet.
These are not individual results, but the findings of a systematic study of 20,000 Germans commissioned by the federal government.
Taking respective B vitamins leads to a solid reduction in blood levels of homocysteine within just a few weeks and is thus an important primary preventive measure.
You can have your homocysteine levels checked by having your blood drawn and sent to the lab for analysis. Values below 10ng/mmol are normal. Higher values are recognized as elevated. A pathological condition with respect to homocysteine metabolism is referred to as “homocysteinemia”.
While only a high cholesterol level was considered to be a precursor to heart and vascular disease in the past, today, the level of homocysteine in the blood is also recognized as an important indicator of vascular health.
- Nationale Verzehrsstudie 2008, Ergebnisbereicht Teil 2, Anhang (National Consumption Study 2008, Report of Results Part 2, Attachment) ↩