What is Homocysteine?
I finished up the book The Homocysteine Revolution by Dr. Kilmer McCully as a follow up to the book that I read recently on the impacts of B12 deficiency.
Seemed like a good transition considering the interplay B12 & homocysteine have on each other: low B12 levels generally means high homocysteine levels.
I first saw homocysteine mentioned when digging into my genetic testing results and the breakdowns I have in my methylation cycle. Though at the time, I had not idea what homocysteine was.
I hoped that Dr. McCully’s book would shed some light on the subject 🙂
Dr. McCully was the first to propose the homocysteine theory in regards to cardiovascular disease. In his book he goes into detail about this amino acid, which could be silently impacting your health and healing.
Homocysteine is an amino acid derived from the normal breakdown of proteins in your body. It is made from another amino acid called methionine, which you get from protein-dense foods.
According to Dr. McCully, our bodies require a supply of methionine from dietary protein for proper growth and maintenance of all of our cells and tissues.
Dietary proteins vary in the amount of methionine that they supply. According to Dr. McCully, plant proteins have lower quantities and put less strain on your body’s resources. He suggests sticking with plant proteins for a majority of intake.
Break Down of Homocysteine
In your liver, methionine (obtained from the breakdown of these proteins) is used in a conversion process called re-methylation, which converts methionine to homocysteine to other compounds that are then released in your urine.
This complicated process requires vitamins B6, B12 and folate. Deficiencies in any of these vitamins can lead to a build up of homocysteine in the cells and tissues of your body.
This, in a nutshell, made up the basis of Dr. McCully’s revolutionary homocysteine approach. His solution for lowering homocysteine levels? Dietary consumption of vitamins B6, B12 & folate.
Magnesium is essential for the action of the enzymes that process proteins, methionine and homocysteine. Zinc also plays an important role. Thus, these should be incorporated as well.
Health Impacts of High Homocysteine Levels
Elevated concentrations of homocysteine can lead to a pro-inflammatory state that weakens your immune system. Definitely not an endo friendly environment.
Additionally, high homocysteine levels impacts circulation and blood flow to your uterus. This makes me think of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) connection between endometriosis and stagnant blood flow.
High blood levels of homocysteine is
also a reliable risk factor for:
- heart attack
- thyroid issues
- neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s
- chronic pain
- auto immune diseases
- digestive disorders
Genetic Factors in High Homocysteine
Turns out that I have mutations in three key genes that directly impact my body’s ability to process and dispose of homocysteine:
MTRR is responsible for methylating and recycling B12. Poor methylation of vitamin B12 leads to higher homocysteine levels.
With MTHFR mutations in place, my body fails to convert folate to the form that is required for conversion of homocysteine to methinone. Thus, higher homocysteine levels are likely.
CBS mutations cause the methylation pathway to become blocked so that the liver is unable to dispose of homocysteine naturally through the urine. To note: CBS needs vitamin B6 for its action.
Because of these mutations it is even more important for me to focus on getting high levels of the recommended B vitamins.
Other Elements That Raise Homocysteine Levels
I looked to see if I could find a connection between high homocysteine levels and endometriosis but found little data to support that claim.
This could come from the fact that ovarian estrogens keep homocysteine levels lower. Throw one benefit to having endo 🙂
However, according to Dr. McCully, administration of synthetic estrogens and progesterones by way of birth control pills, do increase homocysteine levels. This is because these synthetic hormones “antagonize the functions of vitamin B6 in your body“.
Unfortunately, birth control pills are a common prescription for endometriosis, so you may fall into this category. I took them for ten years… Ugh.
Increased homocysteine levels cause circulatory issues (hence Dr. McCully’s cardiovascular connection). These issues can lead to blood clots. This explains why blood clots are a dangerous side effect of birth control pills, especially in women over 35 when estrogen levels start to drop.
Cigarette smoke also decreases B6 functioning and can increase homocysteine levels.
Additional impacts on higher homocysteine levels include: alcohol and coffee consumption, stress, obesity and general aging. As you grow older the tendency is for homocysteine levels to rise.
Testing & Treating High Homocysteine Levels
You can get your homocysteine levels checked with a simple blood test. It is not something that is commonly tested by doctors, so you will likely have to ask for it.
According to integrative Dr. Andrew Weil, normal homocysteine levels should be between 4.4 and 10.8 micromoles per liter of blood. If you are over this range then you are at a significantly increased risk for the diseases discussed.
To prevent build up of potentially toxic levels of homocysteine in your cells, Dr. McCully recommends intaking folate with B6 and B12. Dr. McCully recommends incorporating high doses of these B vitamins (1000 mg+).
If you have MTHFR mutations then be careful with regular folate intake. Definitely take the methylated form (methyl-folate or 5THF) unless you have CBS mutations too… like me…. this creates bigger issues beyond this post 🙂
Dr. McCully received quite a bit of backlash after he wrote his book for suggesting that cardiovascular disease could be prevented with the introduction of key B vitamins into the diet. This, after all, can be implemented without a prescription 🙂
Another natural way to lower homocysteine levels? Yoga. One study showed that two half hour yoga sessions twice a week lowered homocysteine levels by half!
Another reason to get some time on the mat 🙂
On the Positive Side
I had plans to test my homocysteine levels along with my B12 levels, but now I have a better understanding of why. Hope that you do too 🙂
The good news is that high homocysteine levels can be lowered naturally with high doses of B vitamins. Check out a previous post I did for some food sources of B vitamins.
The methylation cycle is complex but I think that I’m starting to understand it a little better… piece by piece. Starting with these two key components: B12 & homocysteine. Thanks for coming along this journey of discovery with me 🙂
Have you tested your homocysteine levels? Have anything that you want to add? I’d love to hear from you….
Is there more development into this?