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Homocysteine: What You Need to Know

Are you familiar with the term homocysteine? We all should be, especially those of us who are over 40 and/or have any risk factors or family history of heart disease or diabetes. Why is this so important? Well, consider that 50% of Americans have at least one cardiovascular risk factor, and of those with multiple risk factors, less than 10% have them adequately controlled.1 While heart disease is a deadly foe, it's also highly preventable. Here's a risk factor you definitely need to know about:

What is homocysteine?
Homocysteine is an amino acid that is formed from the breakdown of methionine-another amino acid, found largely in red meat-during normal metabolism.

Why are high homocysteine levels harmful?
Elevated levels of homocysteine can promote blood clotting in your veins/blood vessels (thrombus) your lungs (pulmonary embolism), your brain (stroke), and your heart (heart attack). The "Physician's Health Study" involving 14,915 doctors revealed that those with high homocysteine levels had 3.4 times greater risk of heart attack than participants with lower homocysteine levels.2

Does homocysteine promote inflammation?
High homocysteine levels appear to boost two chemicals linked to chronic inflammation-which is itself a risk factor for heart disease, among other health issues-arachidoic acid and prostaglandin E2. The combination of chronic inflammation and elevated homocysteine makes for a volatile cocktail where your heart health is concerned.3

What causes high homocysteine levels?
Falling short on key nutrients is a primary cause of dangerously elevated homocysteine-especially folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Fortunately, a high quality B-complex formula can help normalize homocysteine levels. Another cause-which may surprise you-is anger. Numerous studies have found positive, significant associations between hostility, anger and spiked homocysteine levels.4, 5

How is homocysteine measured?
Determining your homocysteine level is as simple as a routine blood test. If your level is too high, you need to reduce it, especially if you have any risk factors for cardiovascular disease-such as plaque accumulation in your arteries.

How can you reduce homocysteine?
The easiest way to lower homocysteine is to supplement a high-quality B-complex formula. Eating more fresh, whole foods also helps by minimizing chronic inflammation. Additionally, you can supplement phytosterols-also called plant sterols. While these naturally occurring plant chemicals are best known for reducing cholesterol, some studies have also found them to be useful in lowering homocysteine.6

Reducing your risk of heart disease involves a wide range of healthy lifestyle choices, some being easier to implement than others. Lowering elevated homocysteine happens to be among the simplest risk factors to correct.

1 Ther Adv Cardiovasc Dis. 2010 Dec 23 [Epub ahead of print]
2 Journal of The American Medical Association, (268(7):877-81)
3 Exp Clin Cardiol. 2010 Summer;15(2):e25-8
4 Life Sci. 2000;66(23):2267-75
5 Med Sci Monit. 2004 Aug;10(8):CR457-62. Epub 2004 Jul 23
6 J Clin Lipidol. 2011 May-Jun;5(3):188-96. Epub 2011 Mar 11

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