Heart disease, the leading cause of death in the nation, claims over 610,000 lives a year in the United States. Stroke exacts a grim toll as well, killing over 130,000 people. And, over 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Recent studies suggest that one specific factor – elevated blood levels of a substance known as homocysteine – may be behind this trio of devastating conditions. Let’s take a closer look at how you can lower your homocysteine levels, thereby helping to prevent coronary events, stroke and dementia – and even helping to reverse their effects.
The basics: Why you should avoid elevated homocysteine levels,
Homocysteine is a non-protein amino acid that is synthesized in the body from the amino acid methionine. Homocysteine levels rise with age, and increasing levels can lead to a damaging chain reaction of effects – research has revealed that elevated homocysteine levels can disrupt delicate arterial linings, increase inflammation and oxidative stress, decrease blood flow to the heart and brain and set the stage for atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. Unsurprisingly, recent studies show that high homocysteine levels is a major factor in triggering heart attacks. In fact, researchers have found that blood levels of this substance can accurately predict your risk of cardiovascular disease.
In addition to raising the risk of heart attack and stroke, elevated homocysteine can contribute to cognitive impairment and dementia. You can determine your homocysteine levels with the help of a simple blood test. Natural health experts advise striving for under 10 umol/L – or 10 micromoles per liter – with 7-8 umol/L considered optimal.
Warning: Elevated homocysteine raises your risk of premature death
Research has shown that high homocysteine is associated with a 42 percent increase in the risk of narrowing in the carotid arteries – a major risk factor for stroke. In addition, people with high homocysteine who do suffer a stroke tend to fare worse than those with lower levels, with increased amounts of microscopic bleeding in the brain. People with high homocysteine who have had a heart attack are at a 30 percent higher risk of experiencing another adverse event – such as a second heart attack, a stroke, or even death. These individuals are also at greater risk of atrial fibrillation – which can trigger a stroke.
In a 2017 study recently published in Circulation, researchers found that people with high homocysteine who develop atrial fibrillation are four times more likely to suffer a stroke than those with normal levels. And, a 2016 study published in Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine revealed that people with high homocysteine who also take warfarin have a 41 percent increase in their risk of dying – along with a 38 percent increase in chances of heart attack.
In addition, research has shown that high homocysteine raises the odds of developing dementia by 100 percent, as compared to people with normal levels. Elevated homocysteine also contributes to the formation of beta amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin B deficiencies can cause homocysteine levels to skyrocket
Although genetic factors, stress and aging – which causes decreasing kidney function and reduces the body’s ability to detoxify itself – all contribute to rising homocysteine, the real culprit is a shortage of B vitamins. B-complex vitamins – folate and vitamin B-12 in particular – are vital to the body’s ability to naturally lower homocysteine. But, vitamin B deficiencies are widespread in the United States – a likely result of the Standard American Diet, which is (fittingly) abbreviated as SAD. Studies have shown that almost a third of heart disease patients 71 and older – and 40 percent of patients 80 and over – are deficient in vitamin B-12. In addition, vegans and vegetarians may also at risk, as vitamin B-12 is found only in animal products.
A simple vitamin regimen can lower homocysteine
A combination of four B-complex vitamins – accompanied by a pair of omega-3 fatty acids – can safely reduce homocysteine levels. However, these vitamins potentiate each other in helping to lowering homocysteine, so all four must be taken daily. The first B-complex vitamin in the regimen is B-2, or riboflavin. Natural health experts advise 25 to 100 mgs per day of this antioxidant vitamin, which helps to enhance the beneficial effects of folate, or vitamin B-9. The active form of vitamin B-6 – pyridoxal 5-phosphate – helps the body to produce vital neurotransmitters, and helps to detoxify homocysteine as well. Most naturopaths recommend dosages of 100 to 200 mg a day. Vitamin B-9, or folate, should be taken (in its active formulation of 5-MTHF) at dosages of 1,000 to 10,000 mcg daily.
Finally, vitamin B-12, or methylcobalamin, should be taken in dosages of 300 to 1,000 mcg daily.
Important note: for maximum benefit, take the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are found in fish oil. These help to potentiate the effects of the B-complex vitamins. This regimen can not only help prevent heart disease, dementia and stroke, but it can help reverse their consequences. Studies show that supplementation with B-complex vitamins reduces damage after strokes, while reducing brain shrinkage in subjects with mild cognitive impairment.
In fact, in one study, a combination of B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids reduced brain shrinkage by a dramatic 40 percent – an impressive result. Of course, it’s also a wise choice to eat plenty of healthy, organic foods that are rich in B-complex vitamins. Spinach, beets, wheat germ, beans and avocados are all good sources of B vitamins – while wild-caught salmon, organic dairy products and grass-fed beef and organ meats are rich in beneficial vitamin B-12.
To reduce the stress that can exacerbate high homocysteine levels, consider the use of biofeedback, meditation and yoga. Forward-thinking naturopaths and natural health experts now recognize elevated homocysteine as a major factor in the development of catastrophic disease. However, early detection – and intervention with a regimen of safe and inexpensive vitamin B – can do much to roll back the risk, and ameliorate any negative effects that may have occurred.
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