Amino acids are often celebrated as the essential building blocks of proteins, vital for our health and body functions. However, homocysteine stands as an exception to this general rule. If your homocysteine levels are riding high, you might be opening the door to some not-so-friendly guests like heart disease, stroke, and even chronic Alzheimer's disease. While various factors contribute to its increase, our diet remains at the forefront of these influencers. Learning what foods cause high homocysteine levels can help you plan your diet to support your health.
Did You Know? MTHFR is a key gene influencing your homocysteine levels. Certain changes in it can result in homocysteine buildup, increasing your risk for various serious health conditions. Your ancestry test DNA data contains more than 700,000 markers, which can be used to learn about your MTHFR gene and 1000+ other things about your health. Learn more.
What Is Homocysteine?
Homocysteine is an amino acid, a chemical component in the bloodstream that helps in protein synthesis.
It is formed when the body breaks down another amino acid called methionine.
While methionine is beneficial for the body, high levels of homocysteine come with various health risks.
Vitamins such as B12, B6, and B9 (folate) may influence homocysteine levels in the blood because they help metabolize homocysteine into other essential chemicals needed by the body.
These vitamin deficiencies can result in high homocysteine levels and are linked with an increased risk for two significant health concerns:
- Atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries)
- Venous thrombosis (blood clots in the veins)
Why Is High Homocysteine Levels Bad?
A normal level of homocysteine in the blood is less than 15 mcmol/L (micromoles per liter).
When homocysteine levels exceed the normal limit:
- Moderate elevation (15-30 mcmol/L): You may be at risk for certain health problems at this stage.
- Intermediate elevation (30-100 mcmol/L): The risk increases significantly at this stage. Various health issues become more likely.
- Severe elevation (greater than 100 mcmol/L): You are at a high risk of experiencing severe health complications at this stage.
High homocysteine levels can damage blood vessels by harming the lining of arteries, known as the endothelium.
This damage can make arteries more vulnerable to atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up on the artery walls.
Plaque is like a sticky substance that can narrow the arteries, reducing blood flow to essential organs like the heart and brain.
High homocysteine levels can also make the blood more likely to form clots.
These clots, also known as thrombus, can block blood vessels in the brain, heart, or lungs, leading to serious health issues as they travel through the bloodstream.
How Does High Homocysteine Affect The Body?
High homocysteine levels can have several negative effects on the body, including:
- Vascular issues: Elevated homocysteine levels can cause inflammation, oxidative stress, and artery clot development. This raises the risk of vascular problems like atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.
- Cognitive dysfunction: High homocysteine levels may damage neurons and alter neurotransmitter activity. This can lead to memory loss, Alzheimer's disease, and dementia.
- Bone health: Elevated homocysteine can interfere with the formation and maintenance of bone tissue. Osteoporosis and fractures may occur as a result of this.
- Depression: High homocysteine levels can impact serotonin production and regulation, a mood-enhancing hormone leading to depression and anxiety.
What Foods Cause High Homocysteine Levels?
Consuming certain foods can raise homocysteine levels due to excess protein or methionine or by interfering with the absorption or metabolism of folate, vitamin B12, or vitamin B6. These foods include:
- Red meat: Especially if it's high in fat and processed.
- Dairy products: Like cheese, if consumed in excess.
- Processed foods: Those with added sugars and unhealthy fats.
- Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can raise homocysteine.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency: Foods low in B12 can indirectly contribute to high homocysteine.
MTHFR Gene Mutations And High Homocysteine Levels
The MTHFR gene produces an enzyme known as methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). This enzyme converts folate into its active form, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF).
5-MTHF is essential for the production of methionine, which is a building block of proteins.
5-MTHF is used to convert homocysteine back into methionine, which helps to keep homocysteine levels in check.
People with a mutation in the MTHFR gene may have reduced MTHFR activity (may not process enough folate), which can lead to high homocysteine levels.
There are two main types of MTHFR gene mutations: C677T and A1298C. The C677T mutation is more common than the A1298C mutation.
People with one copy of the C677T mutation have a slightly increased risk of high homocysteine levels.
People with two copies of the C677T mutation have a higher risk of high homocysteine levels.
The A1298C mutation is less common than the C677T mutation but has a greater impact on MTHFR activity.
People with one copy of the A1298C mutation have a moderate risk of high homocysteine levels.
If you have two copies of the A1298C mutation, it is unlikely to cause high homocysteine levels. Other factors, such as vitamin deficiency, aging, kidney disease, or certain medications, may be responsible.
What Other Things Can Contribute To High Homocysteine Levels?
In addition to MTHFR gene mutations, several other things can contribute to high homocysteine levels, including:
- Kidney disease: Kidney disease can damage the kidneys' ability to filter homocysteine from the blood.
- Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism occurs if the thyroid gland does not create sufficient thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones help to regulate homocysteine levels.
- Certain medications: It is important to note that certain medications, including methotrexate, have been known to raise homocysteine levels.
- Smoking: Smoking can harm blood vessels and elevate homocysteine levels.
- Heavy drinking: Excessive alcohol consumption can harm the liver and elevate homocysteine levels.
Does Vitamin C Lower Homocysteine?
According to a study published in PubMed, vitamin C may reduce homocysteine levels and help prevent vascular damage.
The study discovered that people with higher vitamin C levels tended to have lower homocysteine levels.
Interestingly, the impact of vitamin C on homocysteine was more noticeable in those with lower vitamin C levels. This suggests that vitamin C could benefit people with high homocysteine levels.
It is important to note that the study was observational, so it cannot prove that vitamin C causes homocysteine levels to lower.
More research is needed to confirm this study's findings and determine the optimal dose of vitamin C for lowering homocysteine levels.
How To Lower Homocysteine Levels Naturally?
You can naturally lower your homocysteine levels by changing your diet and lifestyle. Here are some tips to follow:
- Eat more folate-rich foods: Folate is the most essential vitamin for homocysteine metabolism. You can obtain folate from various foods such as green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, citrus fruits, and more.
- Eat more vitamin B12-rich foods: Vitamin B12 is essential for homocysteine metabolism. You can get vitamin B12 from animal products, fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, etc.
- Eat more vitamin B6-rich foods: Vitamin B6 is another important vitamin for homocysteine metabolism. You can get vitamin B6 from bananas, potatoes, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can boost blood flow, increase oxygen supply to cells, and reduce stress and inflammation in the body.
It's advisable to consult your doctor before making significant dietary changes or taking supplements. They'll guide you on the best approach.
When To Take Folate Supplements?
Taking folate supplements can be beneficial if you have an MTHFR gene mutation or elevated homocysteine levels.
But not every manufactured folate supplement will work for you. Synthetic folic acid may disrupt your natural folate metabolism and lead to adverse effects.
Instead, search for organic folate supplements that include methylfolate or 5-MTHF, the type your body can use or absorb easily.
As a precaution, consult with your physician before taking supplements.
Summary: What Foods Cause High Homocysteine Levels?
High homocysteine levels can lead to health problems like heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer's.
When methionine breaks down, it produces the amino acid homocysteine. Vitamins B12, B6, and B9 (folate) can help regulate its levels.
Elevated homocysteine levels can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of atherosclerosis and blood clotting.
It can also impact brain function, bone health, and mood.
Foods that can raise homocysteine levels include red meat, dairy products, processed foods, and alcohol.
MTHFR gene mutations can also contribute to high homocysteine levels, as this gene affects folate metabolism.
Other factors like kidney disease, hypothyroidism, certain medications, smoking, and heavy drinking can also raise homocysteine levels.
Vitamin C may help lower homocysteine levels, especially in those with lower vitamin C levels. However, more research is needed to confirm this effect.
To naturally lower homocysteine levels, one can consume folate-rich foods, vitamin B12-rich foods, and vitamin B6-rich foods.
Regular exercise and consult a doctor before making dietary changes or taking supplements are advisable.
MTHFR Genetic Test
The MTHFR and Methylation Report analyzes important variants in this gene known to lower the MTHFR enzyme levels.
If you have done an ancestry genetic test with companies like 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, etc., you can learn this information in 3 steps.
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