On a regular basis, I have the great pleasure and opportunity to perform lab tests and blood work on many patients which always gives (both my patients and myself) great insight into what is going on with their overall health.
As I have been seeing trends, I thought that it would be really informative for all of my patients in general to know and understand what those trends are – and – what to do about them.
One of those trends is a disturbing amount of patients test positive for high levels of homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine can be a major player in leading to poor health and disease.
What is Homocysteine?
Most if not all of you would say, “What is homocysteine? I’ve never heard of it.” I’m here to tell you that it is really, really important.
As a doctor who strives to help patients become as healthy as possible with a focus on disease prevention, I simply do not understand why it wouldn’t be included in every basic lab panel performed on all patients when there is a blood draw.
Something as basic as checking homocysteine on every lab test, could possible save many lives and prevent life threatening diseases.
For me it is unacceptable to have something that is so important not being performed on every lab panel. I have looked at a lot (A LOT) of routine blood tests performed by other physicians.
To date, I have NEVER seen homocysteine levels tested on any of those routine labs (It’s usually only tested after cardiovascular patients have had a stroke or heart attack in order to assess risk for another heart attack or stroke).
Homocysteine and Stroke or Heart Attack Risk
The really sad part: I work with many, many stroke and heart attack patients who have still never heard of homocysteine before coming to me.
It was never mentioned by anyone involved with their healthcare! Everyone knows that once you have had a stroke or a heart attack, the chances of a second life threatening event are much higher.
What are Safe Levels of Homocysteine?
Optimal “functional” levels of homocysteine should be between 5-8 umol/L for males and 4-7 umol/L for females. Clinical (traditional) lab values are 11 umol/L as the upper end of what is considered acceptable.
In my opinion, the problem with such high “normal” levels is that by the time it goes up to an 11, considerable damage has already been done to the body tissues (namely the arteries) by homocysteine.
I have been seeing a trend of elevated homocysteine levels with my patients in general. Approximately half of blood test results that are returned to my clinic show high homocysteine values.
Homocysteine has been linked to so many disease that it has been called a strong indicator of long-term health and life expectancy.
Homocysteine is a known contributor to many diseases. You will see high homocysteine with autoimmune conditions, hypothyroidism, and genetic dysfunction.
Does Homocysteine Damage Arteries?
Homocysteine also greatly contributes to the risk of heart attacks and strokes by causing damage to the inner lining of the arteries. Because of this, high homocysteine levels in the blood plasma is both a risk factor and predictor of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Homocysteine has been linked to many diseases such as: heart disease, cancer, strokes, advanced aging, genetic defects, autoimmune disorders, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and inflammation, etc…
Elevated homocysteine is also the most consistent predictor of cardio-vascular disease currently known. It was investigated in the 1960’s by Dr. Kilmer McCully.
The children he observed with this condition (due to genetic abnormalities) suffered from accelerated atherosclerosis and premature aging, often dying of heart disease before the age of 10.
What is Homocysteine?
Homocysteine is an amino acid intermediate formed in the liver (I know, I talk about the liver and liver health in many of my articles). Homocysteine is part of the methylation pathway (how genes are expressed) in the body.
Homocysteine is often elevated when there are genetic variations affecting the methylation pathway. These abnormalities can have global body effects.
Studies have shown that women who have high homocysteine and cardiovascular disease are 3 times more likely to die from a stroke or heart attack than women who do not have high homocysteine.
It has been proposed that men and women who have high homocysteine are twice (2x) as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease when compared to those with normal levels.
Why is Homocysteine bad?
When homocysteine levels are high, it is causes vascular (blood vessel) damage! Blood vessels carry oxygen rich blood to all organs in the body.
Blood vessel damage caused by high homocysteine levels can create nerve problems and decreased cognitive (brain) function due to lack of good blood flow.
Prevention is the key! All age groups should be checked for homocysteine levels at least annually.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure especially when we are talking about the brain and heart.
In my experience, many Drs. will look at elevated homocysteine and put their patients on B12, B6, folate or folic acid and other supplements to target and lower homocysteine levels.
It is important to understand that the underlying cause of elevated homocysteine levels is not always a nutrient deficiency such as low B12, B6, folate, etc…
Massive amounts of inflammation can create high levels of homocysteine. So can certain disease processes.
This is another example of why we should exhaust all efforts to find the cause of the elevated values instead of utilizing what I call “shotgun nutrition” or “bad medicine”.
I am proud to say I include a homocysteine check on what I call my “Currie Panel a.k.a. the C-Panel” blood work analysis.
Lab Test Interpretation
In addition, I know how to analyze and interpret the results of the lab tests and explain them in easy to understand terms. I make it my personal business to identify nutrient/nutritional deficiencies that only lab tests can reveal.
It is important to check markers on lab testing that can give invaluable insight into what could lead to health problems and disease. Some of the tests I check are:
- a complete blood chemistry panel
- ferritin and iron stores in the liver
- lipid panel with cholesterol and triglycerides
- blood glucose
- kidney function tests
- liver enzymes
- a comprehensive thyroid panel (TSH, T4 Total, T4 Free, T3 Free, T3 Total, T3 Uptake, Thyroid Peroxidase antibodies, Thyroglobulin antibodies, and Reverse T3)
- C-Reactive Protein
- Serum Magnesium
- Vitamin D levels
- Numerous other tests
Like I said, I test a lot and these are not all of the tests that I include in the testing I order for patients.
It’s one thing to order lab tests, but it’s another when it comes to understanding what to do with that information once you have it. A Ferrari that sits in the garage is only a Ferrari in a garage.
I enjoy taking the information and using it to help improve health. This can be a process but I am used to quick results. I’m an impatient person by nature and like to get results as quickly as possible.
How Long Does it Take to Lower Homocysteine?
In my experience, most patients can lower homocysteine within a couple of months. Sometimes it takes longer. Every person is different and everyone has their own set of health conditions.
When we think about homocysteine and damage to blood vessels, we automatically go to organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys.
How Does Homocysteine affect the Gastrointestinal or Digestive Tract?
The GI tract is highly vascular and is dependent upon having healthy blood vessels in order to absorb nutrients.
Once the nutrients get absorbed, it’s the blood stream and cardiovascular system that carries the nutrients to the liver and other organs.
A healthy digestive system is necessary to give the body the building blocks for preservation, healing, and repair.
When homocysteine is high, it inflames and damages the inner lining (endothelium) of arteries and can affect proper blood flow.
So, it should be very easy at this point to realize that high levels of homocysteine could also decrease digestive absorption and function due to the damage of blood vessels in your digestive tract.
Homocysteine, Methionine, Cysteine, and Glutathione
One last tidbit on homocysteine: Homocysteine is a “super free radical” meaning that it causes oxidative stress and free radical damage to tissues. It’s like the electrons in an atomic bomb.
All aging in the body comes from free radical damage created by electrons in atoms. When these electrons do excessive amounts of damage, it causes disease.
This is how homocysteine is such a destroyer of lives. Its electrons create a very high amount of damage to blood vessels and tissues.
Ordinarily, homocysteine should go through a conversion process where it gets converted into cysteine, methionine and a substance called glutathione.
Glutathione is called the “king of antioxidants” which helps your body protect itself against free radical damage.
When homocysteine is high, it isn’t getting converted into methionine, cysteine and glutathione. Low glutathione levels mean low amounts of antioxidant protection which means more inflammation and free radical damage.
At this point, it should be easy to see, when homocysteine is high, it’s big problems in little China.
At this point, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on my education. I’ve traveled to many seminars and have received approximately 1,000 hours of post doctorate level education.
I’m going to save you a lot of time and money, because here is basically what all health comes down to: All health (or lack thereof) can be linked to poor blood vessel health.
There you have it. You don’t have to go to all of the school that I’ve attended or stay up all night studying because you have 4 tests the next day.
You know what you need to know! The big question is: What are you going to do with this information?
Are you going to act on it and do what you have to do in order to live a healthy and happy life? That is your decision.
I can’t make up your mind for you. You have to come to what your life goals are and decide if you want to take control of your situation.
One thing for certain is that if you keep doing what you have always done, you will keep getting what you’ve always gotten.
Homocysteine, Type 2 Diabetes, and High Blood Pressure
Type 2 Diabetes causes leaky blood vessels and that’s how it damages tissues such as nerves, brain, eyes, kidneys, etc… and kills over time.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is often caused by hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis). Damage to the arteries by something such as homocysteine can harden them over time and can cause high blood pressure.
That’s the reason why homocysteine is known as an “atherogenic” substance. It directly causes atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.
Because of its damaging effects, homocysteine is heavily linked to strokes, heart attacks and other diseases created by poor blood vessel health.
When you don’t have healthy blood vessels, you can’t really have a healthy anything.
You may be thinking, “what about cholesterol“? Cholesterol is not the enemy. Cholesterol heals and repairs tissues that are chronically inflamed.
Yes, high cholesterol can be a risk factor for strokes and heart attacks, but homocysteine is significantly more predictive.
Poor health leads to poor quality of life and way less enjoyment, fulfillment and happiness. Pretty basic, but the truth.
Health is Happiness,
Dr. Keith Currie