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What is homocysteine?

Homocysteine is an amino acid that is made by the body. It is also in some foods. Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins. High levels of homocysteine in the blood have been linked to a higher risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. A high level of homocysteine seems to cause problems in at least 3 ways. It may:

  • Damage the cells lining the inside of the arteries.
  • Interfere with clotting factors in the blood.
  • Affect the way the body handles low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol).

What causes high levels of homocysteine?

Things that may cause high levels of homocysteine are:

  • aging
  • a medical problem called homocystinuria that keeps the body from getting rid of homocysteine
  • kidney disease
  • not enough folic acid, vitamin B6, or vitamin B12 in the diet
  • smoking.

How can homocysteine levels be lowered?

A healthy diet can lower homocysteine levels. Three nutrients can help keep homocysteine in check: folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.

  • Folic acid is found in green leafy vegetables, oranges, and fortified cereals.
  • Vitamin B-6 is in many foods, including bananas, potatoes, and fortified cereals.
  • Vitamin B-12 is found in animal products such as meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. It is also in fortified cereals.

Will I lower my risk of heart attack if I lower my homocysteine level?

Experts do not agree on whether lowering homocysteine levels can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. There is no direct proof that folic acid and B vitamins prevent heart attacks and strokes. If you are at high risk for heart disease, your healthcare provider can check your homocysteine level with a blood test. If your levels are high, your provider may advise you to be sure to get enough of these nutrients in your diet. However, other risk factors and your total diet play a role as well.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-01-20
Last reviewed: 2010-12-17
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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