6 Reasons Your Homocysteine Levels Matter

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What is homocysteine?

Homocysteine is an amino acid released as the body digests dietary protein, and at high levels, it can be harmful to your health. Too much homocysteine in your blood is linked with a greater risk of heart disease, stroke (blood clots), and complications of diabetes such as neuropathy (nerve damage). Mild hyperhomocysteinemia levels are seen in 5 to 12 percent of the general population. 

What causes high homocysteine levels?

Common culprits for high homocysteine levels include a lack of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12. Replacing these vitamins in your diet will help return your homocysteine levels to normal. Other causes of high homocysteine levels include smoking, family history, previous heart attack or stroke, kidney disease and certain medications. In rare cases, the problem may be genetic.

How can I lower my homocysteine levels?

The first thing to do is increase your intake of folic acid. Make sure you eat folate-rich foods, such as leafy green vegetables, bananas, beans, and peas. Other foods, such as cereal, are often fortified with a synthetic form of folic acid. You can also take folic acid supplements in the form of a pill, powder, or liquid. Be sure to check with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet.

What else does homocysteine affect?

Homocysteine has been identified as playing an important part in healthy fetal development. High maternal homocysteine levels in the bloodstream increase the chance of miscarriage and other serious pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia and placental abruption. High levels of homocysteine have also been linked to diseases that cause dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

What's a normal homocysteine level?

Normal levels are in the range between five to 15 micromoles, 15 to 30 micromoles per liter is a moderately high level, and 30-100 micromoles per liter is considered intermediate.

Should I get tested?

There are no official recommendations as to who should undergo testing for homocysteine blood levels. Some doctors screen for elevated homocysteine levels in patients with early onset of blood clot formation, heart attacks, strokes, or other symptoms related to atherosclerosis, especially if they don't fit the typical profile of someone with heart disease.