Homocysteine is an amino acid made from a common dietary amino acid, methionine, that inflicts damage to the inner arterial lining (endothelium) and contributes to many diseases:
- cardiovascular disease
- congestive heart failure
- age-related macular degeneration
- hearing loss
- brain atrophy
- Alzheimer’s disease
Fortunately, B vitamins like folate, vitamins B6 and B12, and other integrative interventions can reduce homocysteine and counteract this destructive process.
Causes of High Homocysteine Levels (Hyperhomocysteinemia)
Many factors contribute to high homocysteine levels:
- Insufficient folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, betaine, vitamin B2, and magnesium
- Prescription drug use (including cholestyramine, colestipol, fenofibrate, levodopa, metformin, methotrexate, niacin, nitrous oxide, pemetrexed, phenytoin, sulfasalazine)
- High-methionine diet (including red meat and dairy products)
- Alcohol consumption
- Advancing age
- Genetic variant that causes an impaired ability to metabolize active folate from folic acid
Note: Life Extension believes that the optimal range for homocysteine levels is <8 µmol/L, much lower than the currently accepted <15 µmol/L.
Dietary and Lifestyle Changes
Several dietary and lifestyle changes can help reduce chronic inflammation:
- Avoid methionine-rich foods like red meat and dairy products
- Exercise, as patients in a cardiac rehabilitation program showed a reduction in homocysteine from exercise alone
- Decrease or eliminate alcohol and smoking
- B vitamins: Folate, along with vitamins B6 and B12, has been shown in numerous studies to help lower homocysteine levels. The active form of folate, L-methylfolate, can achieve plasma folate levels up to 700% higher than synthetic folic acid and therefore may be more effective at lowering homocysteine levels.
- Betaine (TMG) and Choline: Higher intakes of TMG and choline (which is converted to TMG in the body) are related to lower circulating homocysteine concentrations.
- N-acetyl L-cysteine (NAC): NAC may displace homocysteine from its protein carrier, which lowers homocysteine and promotes the formation of cysteine and glutathione, a powerful antioxidant.
- S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe): Supplementing with SAMe promotes the conversion of homocysteine to cysteine, which is then converted to glutathione and lowers homocysteine levels.
- Taurine: Research suggests taurine can block methionine absorption (which is converted to homocysteine in the body) and produce a significant decline in homocysteine levels in 4 weeks.