What’s the Big Deal about Homocysteine?
We’ve known about the risks of homocysteine since the late 60’s when a Harvard researcher by the name of McCulley brought it to the world’s attention with his research. At that time there was a brutal PR war going on about lipids and cholesterol as being the cause of heart disease, which the pharmaceutical industry took up with enthusiasm (because there was so much money to be made). McCulley was essentially booed off the stage with his ideas and homocysteine was swept under the rug, despite continuing research showing that it had an association with headaches, heart attacks, strokes, osteoporosis, macular degeneration, and dementia. Ok, which of those don’t you have? This is the perfect portfolio of what we are getting sick from in this 21st century, and homocysteine is sitting right in the middle of it.
What does homocysteine do? Well, it is really just a shuttle bus moving methyl groups around inside your cell. It backs up when you don’t have enough. That simple. But what do you need methyl groups for? Ah, there’s the rub. (Poor Hamlet, thinking of suicide) Methyl groups are needed to label DNA so that you know which DNA to turn on and off. Having sufficient Methyl-FOLATE, one of the key sources of methyl groups is so powerful that women trying to get pregnant who take METHYL-FOLATE starting one year prior to conception will have as much as a 70% reduction in premature delivery. Wow! Throw in B12 (the other source of methyl groups in nature) with the methyl folate and spina bifida drops 5 fold during pregnancy. I could go for pages describing these effects in the literature, but you get the gist. You need methyl groups to tag and label DNA so that you can turn on the right genes at the right time. Add B6 and methyl glycine (a reservoir chemical to give methyl groups to folate and B12) and you will have pristine, perfect homocysteine levels.
The other thing methyl groups do is to be the first step in making “gunk” water soluble so you can excrete it through your kidneys. Lots of neurotransmitters are “methylated” on their way to excretion, as are all our hormones. Without sufficient methyl groups, we back them up and make more dangerous models.
Where do you get methyl-folate from? The foods are essentially all peas and green vegetables (spinach, asparagus, broccoli), foods we don’t eat anymore. If you eat lots of greens and black-eyed peas (yummy southern soul food cooking) you get lots of good folate.
The real problem is that we don’t measure homocysteine routinely. In fact, many health networks forbid measuring it because it’s not on their list of approved lab tests. Trust me. I know. I’ve gone to battle with one large local health care system only to be told by a nurse reviewer that it doesn’t meet their criteria.
And the irony is that it is ridiculously easy to lower to a normal range. Bredesen in his online training and his book, The End of Alzheimer’s, wants your homocysteine to be 7 or below. You lower it by taking B vitamins.
And that’s what this week’s studies show. B vitamins help slow cognitive decline in aging men. You can correlate that with high homocysteine. The average man in America has a level of 12 but I’ve seen as high as 42 now. For every 1 point above 7, you get a 16% increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Dropping your homocysteine from 12 to 7 halves your risk. Isn’t that just peachy! So simple, so easy, so elegant.
How did we get in this pickle? We evolved eating lots of green leafy vegetables in Africa. We lived to 35. It didn’t harm us then. Bruce Aime’s Triage Theory points out that until a nutrient deficiency makes a biological imperative for evolutionary pressure, it won’t cause trouble. We can skate along the edge of deficiency and not be affected until we fall over that cliff.
WWW.What will work for me. Well, the “cliff” appears to be about age 50 when we seem to get into trouble with sufficient B vitamins. I see very few folks with normal homocysteine. I had a level of 12 when I started and on daily B vitamins, I get down to about 9. I’ve just started with more methyl-folate and I’m waiting to test myself again. I’m bracing for paying the lab fee myself as I know my insurance may not cover it.
- What does homocysteine do? Answer: It’s a passive amino acid shuttle that carries a methyl group off to attach to other chemicals. It’s simply a marker of sufficient methyl groups for everything else downstream.
- Soul food is inherently unhealthy? T or F Answer: Timeout. Probably the best way to get methyl folate through food. At least if you are eating greens and black-eyed peas.
- What should women wishing to become pregnant do in regard to methyl folate? Answer: Take it continuously for at least one year prior to pregnancy initiation in order to reduce their risk of premature delivery as much as 70%
- Why doesn’t lack of B vitamins hurt us more sooner? Answer: Bruce Ames triage theory explains that it does hurt us if we put on the right glasses to see it’s effect. It takes years of labeling DNA badly for the effect to show
- For every point increase in homocysteine over 7, my risk of dementia goes up how much? Answer: 16% You should know your homocysteine. Always.