High Homocysteine Levels Can be the Culprit of Several Health Problems
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
When I had my physical exam later that month, I asked my doctor to perform an additional blood test to check my homocysteine level. I was surprised that homocysteine was not part of the routine blood evaluation prescribed during a physical exam, and that I had to make a personal request to have it checked. For the past 15 years, I have been battling high blood cholesterol with everything from oat bran muffins---which left me bloated and bursting with gas---to high doses of niacin, which caused uncomfortable flushing and hot streaks. Around the mid-1990s, my doctor decided it was time for me to start taking a lipid-lowering medication which, when combined with a sound diet of fruits and vegetables and regular daily exercise, kept my cholesterol level in check.
What was so interesting about the article was that the author noted that even when blood cholesterol levels are in the safe range, a high homocysteine level could lead to heart disease. I was surprised that my doctor never thought of checking my homocysteine level. Sure enough, when the results came back, it was in the high range (a safe range is somewhere between 5 and 10 micromoles per liter [umol/L], although the upper limit of safety is still somewhat controversial). I immediately began taking 1 milligram (mg) of folic acid per day and my homocysteine levels fell within the normal range.
Amazing, isn't it, that my internist, for whom I have a great deal of respect and consider to be an excellent, well-informed physician, did not consider measuring this important blood parameter in someone with a history of high blood cholesterol? That's why it's so important to stay current with the new research findings and identify key changes that you can make to your diet and vitamin/mineral intake to reduce the incidence of various secondary conditions such as fractures, dementia, pain, fatigue, and so on.
More on Homocysteine
High Homocysteine Levels May Increase Risk of Fractures and Alzheimer's Disease
Last month, new research findings reported in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine found that high homocysteine levels increase the risk of fractures in people with osteoporosis. The investigators noted that homocysteine increases in the blood when a person is low in certain nutrients, particularly green leafy vegetables that are high in folic acid, and vitamins B-6 and B-12. Surprisingly, the researchers found that high homocysteine levels appeared to be a stronger indicator for a fracture than smoking and having a low bone mineral density, and noted that people with the highest and lowest homocysteine levels didn't have significantly different bone densities, even though the high homocysteine group had more fractures. In an earlier study, researchers also found a link between high homocysteine levels and Alzheimer's disease.
The next time you have a blood test, ask your doctor to check your homocysteine level. This seemingly harmless amino acid could be a potential risk to your heart, bones, and mental function when found in high levels in your blood.