High homocysteine levels increase risk of Alzheimer’s, heart attack and stroke
(NaturalHealth365) With over 5 million Americans currently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease – and the number expected to triple over the next 50 years – there is a pressing need for better prevention, detection and treatment of this debilitating condition. Researchers have long known of the link between Alzheimer’s disease and elevated levels of homocysteine – an amino acid produced in the body.
Now, a Temple University study has shed light on another important connection: the link between specific vitamin deficiencies and high homocysteine.
Do you know which vitamins are essential for detoxifying excessive amounts of homocysteine – and can help protect you against heart disease, cognitive decline and dementia?
It’s official: Elevated homocysteine can raise dementia risk – up to tenfold
The list of ways in which elevated homocysteine levels can affect the brain is long and damaging.
Excess homocysteine’s destructive toolkit includes: the formation of plaque in blood vessels that supply blood to the brain, the development of chronic inflammation in the brain and the shrinkage of areas of the brain associated with memory.
In addition, high homocysteine promotes the neurofibrillary “tau tangles” and harmful beta-amyloid plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease. And, finally, elevated homocysteine levels can interfere with the DNA repair needed for brain cell maintenance.
These harmful effects can all take a severe toll on brain function.
In an influential study published in Annals of Neuroscience, the team found that elevated homocysteine levels are associated with a stunning 4.2- to 10.5-fold increased risk for vascular dementia (brain damage occurring from impaired blood flow to the brain).
And, the higher homocysteine rises, the more damage it can cause.
The researchers reported that the elevations in homocysteine were found to correspond closely to the degrees of cognitive impairment suffered by the participants.
In a paper published in 2018 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, a team of experts classified elevated homocysteine as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline and dementia.
However, they made an important distinction. The risk from elevated homocysteine, the team noted, was “modifiable.” In other words, reducing homocysteine levels can reduce the risk of brain damage – a powerful reason to keep this substance in check.
Study report: Deficiencies in B vitamins caused levels of homocysteine and pro-inflammatory chemicals to rise
Homocysteine, which is produced in the body in response to the breakdown of proteins, is normally detoxified by B-complex vitamins. A recent study – published in the prestigious journal Molecular Psychiatry – clearly illustrated the dangers of B-complex vitamin shortfalls, in regard to homocysteine.
After laboratory mice were deprived of vitamin B6, vitamin B9 and vitamin B12 for eight months, they displayed elevated levels of homocysteine – and 50 percent more tau tangles in the brain.
The elevated homocysteine also caused increased levels of a pro-inflammatory chemical called 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX) – a finding that dovetails neatly with the increased brain inflammation noted in earlier homocysteine studies.
Even more significantly, the animals studied had considerable difficulties in learning and remembering a water maze (when compared to a control group).
In other words, these animals seemed to be experiencing cognitive decline.
High homocysteine drastically increases the odds of life-threatening coronary events in heart patients
It is not only the brain that is affected by high homocysteine. The condition can also cause a litany of harm to the cardiovascular system.
Elevated homocysteine levels can damage the fragile linings of blood vessels, promoting deposits of artery-clogging plaque and raising the odds of a catastrophic heart attack or stroke. In fact, research has shown that high homocysteine is linked with a 42 percent increase in the risk of constriction of carotid arteries – a major risk factor for strokes.
The combination of high homocysteine and poor arterial function can also interfere with the ability of the body to counter dangerous clotting inside an artery – and with the ability of the heart to adapt to a blocked vessel by forging a new pathway.
And, high homocysteine is particularly perilous for those with existing cardiovascular disease.
One study involving over 3,000 patients with chronic heart disease showed that elevated homocysteine was associated with a 2.5-fold higher risk of coronary events – and researchers even had a precise formula for measuring risk.
Every additional 5 micromoles per liter of homocysteine, noted the team, resulted in a 25 percent increase in risk.
Dangerous equation: Increasing age, low B vitamins combine for a “double whammy” of rising homocysteine
Homocysteine levels tend to rise with aging – a product of less-efficient detoxification functions. Of course, genetics, stress and the consumption of prescription drugs can also play a role.
But experts say that the real villain in rising homocysteine is often a shortage of four specific B-complex vitamins – vitamins B2, B6, B9 and B12 – which normally detoxify the amino acid.
If you’re concerned that your homocysteine may be high – or your vitamins low – ask your doctor for a simple blood test.
While natural health experts commonly advise homocysteine levels below 10 umol/L (with under 8 umol/L considered optimal), Western medicine doesn’t consider homocysteine to be elevated until levels reach 15 umol/L.
Since extensive studies have shown that those with blood levels between 10 to 15 umol/L are at greater risk for heart disease and dementia, it may be better to “err on the side of caution.”
For maximum benefit, use B vitamins in their most bioactive forms
To help lower homocysteine, many natural health experts recommend vitamin B2 (riboflavin) in dosages of 25 mg to 100 mg a day; vitamin B6 (in the form of pyridoxal 5-phosphate) at 100 to 200 mg a day; vitamin B12 (in the form of methylcobalamin) at 300 to 1,000 mcg a day, and vitamin B9 (folic acid ) in the form of 5-MTHF at 1,000 to 10,000 mcg a day.
In these forms, the nutrients don’t need to be converted in the body – and can immediately go to work detoxifying homocysteine. Some natural health experts advise taking the B vitamins along with the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, to help potentiate their effects.
Naturally, check first with your integrative physician before supplementing. And, by the way, good dietary sources of B vitamins include organic spinach, beans, wheat germ, avocados and beets. In addition, wild-caught salmon and grass-fed beef are rich in vitamin B12.
With degenerative chronic conditions like heart disease and Alzheimer’s on the rise, it only makes sense to protect yourself by controlling homocysteine levels – and avoiding deficiencies of essential B-complex vitamins.
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