Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Homocysteine and Cardiovascular Health

Homocysteine (homo-sis-teen) is a combination of two amino acids, methonine and cysteine and at increased levels joins other well established factors, including elevated cholesterol, cigarette smoke and obesity for causing poor circulation, heart attack and stroke. In addition to atherosclerosis, hyperhomocysteinemia also has been found to be a procoagulant and thrombogenic agent (a major cause of heart attacks and strokes). However, it has taken more than 3 decades after its initial discovery to gain its current morbidity and mortality notoriety.

More than 30 years ago, Dr. McCully determined that an infant had died due to a genetic defect that did not allow it to utilize vitamin B12. Among other essential functions, such as nerve integrity and bone marrow support, ineffective use of B12 was found to cause a rapidly increasing level of homocysteine in the blood. It was determined that excessive levels of homocysteine due to a genetic disorder caused hardening of the arteries and premature deaths in infants. Dr. McCully then hypothesized that increased levels of homocysteine could cause the same hardening of the arteries that is normally expected only in the unhealthy elderly.

Even though in many cardiovascular disorders the cholesterol level is normal Dr. McCully’s suggestion that excess homocysteine from vitamin B12 deficiency could possibly be the cause of plaque build up in arteries in those with normal cholesterol fell on deaf ears. Unfortunately, during that time, traditional medicine was so hung up on cholesterol as the only culprit in cardiovascular disease Dr. McCully’s suggestion was completely ignored.

Recently, however, all that has changed. During the 1900’s there have been numerous studies reported in all leading medical journals positively linking elevated levels of homocysteine with “hardening” of the arteries. It is now well accepted that elevated levels of homocysteine brings about the same kind of plaque build up in blood vessels that can be expected from high levels of cholesterol. In addition to hardening of the arteries, elevated homocysteine levels have also been found to increase the risk of blood clots, a major cause of strokes and heart attacks.

We now know there are four basic nutritional deficiencies that can cause elevated homocysteine levels, B6, B12, folic acid, and riboflavin. As are most vitamins, these nutrients are very fragile and easily destroyed by heat, light, preservative, and many chemicals. Vitamin deficiencies are commonly caused by food processing and poor selection of food in our diets.

There is good news!! There is a simple and reasonably priced blood test for homocysteine that any standard laboratory can perform. Also, dietary modifications and supplementation with vitamins B6, B12, riboflavin and folic acid will bring homocysteine levels into a normal range every time.

Cardiovascular disease can be prevented or reversed by taking a few simple steps. If overweight, losing weight with a lifestyle modification program consisting of plenty of vegetables and fruits is essential. Avoiding greasy and fried foods, dairy products, refined sugar and flour, chips, crackers and luncheon meats are important for overall well being as well as for cardiovascular health. Eight of every ten bites of food should be from vegetables or fruits (fruits cannot be canned). In addition to the above listed nutrients, the antioxidant vitamins, A, C, E, alpha lipoic acid and Co-enzyme Q-10 are also mandatory for a healthy heart. The Journal of the American Medical Association (AMA) reports that we cannot get enough vitamin E from our diets and must take it as a supplement for good heart health.

It has been reported that most cardiologists take nutritional supplements themselves yet very few recommend them to their patients.

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