Homocysteine and methylation. Time for a little chemistry.
Homocysteine is an amino acid found in our blood when the body's equilibrium is disturbed. We do not get it from food, it is produced when our bodies malfunction, sort of say. And when do our bodies “malfunction”? When methylation is inadequate. Do not worry; you don’t need to know much about chemistry to understand. To justify the title of this paragraph, I will tell you that if methylation works properly, it maintains the homocysteine levels to what they should be, which is very low.
In recent years more and more studies show homocysteine is one of the best indicators of potential heart problems, among others! Elevated homocysteine levels in our blood plasma can be a reliable predictor for the development of cardiovascular disease or even for the possibility of a stroke.
Not only that... Elevated levels of homocysteine appear to be associated with Alzheimer's, mood disorders, poor memory and concentration, bad mood, lack of energy, cardiovascular problems, neurological disorders, immune system disorders such as cancer, autoimmune diseases and premature aging, migraines, diabetes and osteoporosis... and I still may be forgetting some. All these problems have one thing in common: the oxidation and catastrophic evolution of our cells.
Furthermore, relevant studies in women have shown that high homocysteine levels cause
conception difficulties and a higher risk of frequent miscarriages.
What is the relation between homocysteine and methylation and why does it concern us?
Methylation is an important chemical process which never stops and it more or less regulates all of our body functions! So great and so simple... Imagine now that every second some compounds called “methyl groups” attach themselves in various components of our body, trying to create balance. For example, if the serotonin produced to lift our mood isn’t methylated, it becomes deactivated, i.e. it can not be reused. The result is a lack of serotonin and depression is very likely. The same happens when the alarm goes off and rapid methylation starts in order to produce adrenaline in amounts that will sustain us in difficult times.
Homocysteine is an indicator of the proper or poor function of methylation. If the homocysteine in our blood is low it indicates that methylation is working well. Want to guess what else it indicates? That our body responds well to whatever may happen, and we all know that a lot happens every day!
Homocysteine, vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid: they are also related
Homocysteine is one of the most reliable indicators of the levels of vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid in the body. When it is high these great nutrients are low. This is because these nutrients are necessarily involved in the metabolic process of the methylation of homocysteine in order for it to be removed from our body.
Studies have shown that the rate of methylation falls with age, if there is a lack of B6, B12, and folic acid, as already mentioned, and when the levels of B2, zinc and TMG (trimethylglycine) are low. In recent years the lack of B12 is more common; this seems to be associated either with genetics, with problems in the gastrointestinal system which sometimes may be due to the use of antibiotics, with digestion problems or even with chronic bowel maladies. See more in Intestine. The environmental approach.
What makes it go up and what makes it go down?
Let's start with the easy part; what makes it go up:
- Stress, smoking, high consumption of coffee and alcohol, lack of exercise, poor diet.
Also, some medications, such as corticosteroids, diabetes’ medication, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid dysfunction drugs.
- It is also in our genes. But do not be discouraged; with proper nutrition we can even control that. To learn how, see below.
Now for the hard part... What makes it go down?
It’s not at all hard, if you follow a proper or balanced diet. See more in My weight, my health.
- Foods that contain nutrients like the vitamins mentioned above. For example, whole grains, beans, lentils, chickpeas, spinach, natural nuts and grains, vegetables and fruit in general, as well as foods rich in B12, such as eggs, meat, milk.
- A good dietary supplement that contains the nutrients mentioned can very well supplement our diet, not replace it.
You must be very aware of a possible B12 deficiency and elevated homocysteine levels if you follow a very strict vegetarian diet.
Appropriate laboratory tests
A blood plasma test can detect our homocysteine levels, i.e. our methylation rate and basically tell us if our body is functioning well or not. The laboratory should take appropriate steps for sample maintenance in order to produce reliable results. This is accomplished by separating the plasma from the serum with a specific procedure when receiving the sample. If this can not be done, the analysis must be completed within half an hour.
The very reliable Organic and Amino Acids Test done with urinalysis can also be very enlightening, as you'll see below.
Can we control methylation after all?
Fortunately, in many cases proper nutrition combined with selected dietary supplements, when needed, gave very encouraging results. Each person’s nutritional needs are difficult to identify due to the different metabolic, environmental and genetic factors. If these needs are determined they will lead to successful application of nutritional guidance from a specialist. A specialist’s basic tools are the analysis of homocysteine levels in blood plasma as well as the Organic and Amino Acids Test (see more in Tests at home). With this test we can see the level of homocysteine and its associated indicators that measure any lack of vitamins involved in its metabolism.
See how we can improve our genes
Relative and very modern research of our genome showed that many people with health problems had a differentially expressed gene that regulates the production of an enzyme which is vital for the procedure of methylation in the body. It appeared as though partial restoration of this enzyme’s function could be achieved by adding vitamins B and folic acid on the daily diet of the people who participated in these studies.
Could the secret lie in personalizing our nutritional needs depending on the degree of differentiation in our genes? This seems to be repeatedly suggested by clinical applications of new research data.
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- De Bree Α., Verschuren Μ., et al 2001. Alcohol consumption and plasma homocysteine: What's brewing?
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- Humphrey L., et al., 2008. Homocysteine level and coronary heart disease incidence: a systematic review and metanalysis.
- Holford P., 2009. The ten secrets of 100% Healthy people.
- Majors A., et al., 1997. Homocysteine as a risk factor for vascular disease. Enhanced collagen production and accumulation by smooth muscle cells.
- Pritchard D., 2007. Report from Homocysteine Day. Oxford
- Robertson K., 2001. DNA methylation, methyltransferases and cancer.
- Seshadri S., et al 2002. Plasma Homocysteine as a risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.