Your heart and mind matter: Homocysteine explained
Have you ever heard of homocysteine? Many people are unaware that this amino acid is a marker of an increased risk for heart attack, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline in both people and dogs.
In this article, you will learn about homocysteine, what it means to have elevated levels, and how to keep it in check.
The good news is that maintaining healthy homocysteine levels is easy and inexpensive!
What is homocysteine?
Homocysteine is a sulfur-containing amino acid derived from metabolizing the essential amino acid methionine. Homocysteine synthesis is a normal part of your body's methionine metabolism; however, increased homocysteine levels are closely connected to various diseases.
Increased homocysteine levels are similar to a smoke detector going off inside the body; they are a red flag warning you of an increased risk for serious problems.
What diseases are connected to elevated homocysteine levels?
In recent years, research has shown a link between high levels of homocysteine and Alzheimer's disease, dementia, stroke, and cognitive decline in older people and dogs - in dogs; it’s commonly known by the term ‘dog dementia.’
What causes high homocysteine levels?
Various factors, including genetic ones, can cause high levels of homocysteine, but one of the leading causes that stand out is a deficiency of vitamins B6 and B12. An increase in homocysteine and a deficit of vitamins B6 and B12 are linked to cognitive disorders and dementia.
*Several medications have been associated with elevated homocysteine levels; these include methotrexate, antiepileptic drugs, cholesterol-lowering drugs, drugs for Parkinson's disease, and metformin.
What are the normal levels of homocysteine in people and dogs?
Homocysteine levels can vary, and the ranges for what's considered "normal" can differ slightly based on the laboratory that processes the test. However, here are the general guidelines.
In humans, normal homocysteine levels are typically considered to be between 5 and 12 micromoles per litre (µmol/L).
In dogs, normal total plasma homocysteine concentrations range from approximately 1.6 to 9.9 µmol/L. The wide range reflects the variations among individual dogs and different breeds.
Do certain foods contain homocysteine?
Homocysteine is not obtained directly from the diet but is a by-product of methionine metabolism.
How and at what age can homocysteine be measured?
Homocysteine is measured through a simple blood test, where a blood sample is drawn and sent to a laboratory for analysis. As elevated levels of homocysteine can increase the risk of heart disease and cognitive disorders, it's generally recommended that individuals start testing their levels at around 50 years of age. Similarly, for dogs, it may be a good idea to consider testing at 10 years of age.
Besides determining the levels of homocysteine, the test is also helpful in assessing the need for supplementing vitamins B6 and B12 and other vitamins.
Several labs can conduct homocysteine tests on people. For instance, LabCorp provides a homocysteine plasma test, and Quest Diagnostics offers a Cardio IQ® homocysteine test. Mayo Clinic Laboratories also provides a similar service.
However, no known labs currently offer homocysteine testing for dogs, and such tests would have to be done in a human lab.
The good news is that there is a simple and more cost-effective way of reducing the levels of homocysteine and preventing its consequences, and that is vitamin supplementation.
How can we ensure that homocysteine doesn't rise to harmful levels?
Here are some practical steps to help prevent cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease, and cardiovascular disease.
As I mentioned, homocysteine gets metabolized back to methionine. Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, converts it back to methionine, and vitamin B6 converts it into cysteine.
Vitamin B12 is crucial for nerve function, red blood cell formation, and DNA synthesis.
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is equally essential as it participates in over 100 enzyme reactions, mainly related to protein metabolism. It is vital for brain development and function and helps the body make the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which influences mood, and melatonin, which helps regulate the body's clock.
Can vitamins B6 and B12 be sourced solely from food?
Ideally, a diet rich in B vitamins can help maintain healthy homocysteine levels. However, due to intensive agriculture and the resulting depleted soil, research has shown that food alone cannot sufficiently provide the required nutrients and supplements are needed.
When choosing supplements, it’s important to be aware that not all supplements are created equal. Most vitamins are made of coal and crude oil, and the body doesn't benefit from them in the same way it does when given food-based fermented vitamins.
Fermented vitamins are different because they are bound to a bioprotein matrix, and the body recognizes them as food. Some benefits of fermenting vitamins include increased potency, bio-availability, as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Fermented supplements are also gentle on the stomach, unlike conventional vitamins, which frequently cause digestive upset.
We are the only company making a fermented certified organic multivitamin and organ support for dogs.
Only a handful of fermented vitamin supplements are available for people, most of which have now been acquired by multinational companies.
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