It is well known that inflammation plays a major role in all disease processes. Whether it is the cause or an effect of the disease, it is a factor to be dealt with for improvement to take place. There are several inflammatory markers that can be measured by blood tests. I’m continually surprised at how few times any of them are tested for, but there is one in particular that I feel should be part of routine testing. Because elevated levels are associated with several health problems commonly affecting Americans, homocysteine should be tested on everyone. The fact that it is not should raise some questions.
Homocysteine is an amino acid that is formed during the metabolism of the amino acid cysteine to methionine and back to cysteine. Once formed, it should be neutralized very rapidly. If it is not, levels can rise and it becomes very inflammatory and is associated with several disease processes. Elevated levels can damage the lining of blood vessels which then cause plaque to be formed. With this type of cardiovascular disease, elevated homocysteine is the cause and plaque is the effect. Because homocysteine is abrasive to vessels, it may cause eye diseases, like macular degeneration. It also increases stroke risk and may contribute to dementia. Another consequence of elevated homocysteine is that it can shorten telomeres. Telomeres are the end caps of chromosomes that shorten with cell division. The longer the telomeres, the better for one’s health. Things that shorten telomeres cane affect mortality. Elevated homocysteine has demonstrated to shorten telomeres. Lab values of 15 umol/L and higher are considered elevated but 7.2 or lower are considered optimal.
Elevated homocysteine can be caused by smoking, alcohol, and several prescription drugs like birth control pills and methotrexate. Aging and hypothyroidism are also risk factors. Nutrient deficiencies are a major cause of elevated levels. The most important nutrients necessary to negate homocysteine are Vitamins B6, B12, folate, magnesium, choline and taurine. A study was done years ago where monkeys were fed B6 deficient diets and their homocysteine levels rose. Once levels were elevated, they were given Vitamin B6 supplementation and homocysteine levels returned to normal.
Homocysteine levels should be considered one of the most important lab values to be tested. Could the reason that it is not be because the treatment is primarily nutritional? It is time this test is given the attention it deserves. Too many lives are at risk.
Dr. Dennis K. Crawford
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