Today’s post is about an amino acid that’s not found in foods, nor is it a building block of protein. It’s actually synthesized in your body, and high levels of it are associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, bone fractures, heart problems, depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Clearly, it’s really important to maintain low levels of this harmful amino acid, so I’m happy to share with you exactly what you can do to achieve this.
But first, let’s examine the relevant scientific details on…
Homocysteine, A Harmful Byproduct Of Amino Acid Metabolism
Your body produces homocysteine when it metabolizes protein and breaks it down into individual amino acids. One of these is called methionine, which in turn is broken down into homocysteine. The process involves some familiar nutrients, including vitamins B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin), and folic acid.
In fact, homocysteine and folic acid have a correlative relationship. When folic acid levels decrease, homocysteine levels increase, and vice versa. Here’s why.
Your body has only two options to get rid of homocysteine. One is to convert it into cysteine through a process called transulfuration, or back into methionine through a process called remethylation. Folic acid and B12 are required cofactors in remethylation. Transulfuration is an enzymatic process that requires B6.
What Causes Homocysteine Build-Up?
Because homocysteine results from the breakdown of protein, a high-protein diet sets the stage for excessive homocysteine levels in the blood. Coupled with a lack of B vitamins, high protein consumption can lead to dangerously high homocysteine levels.
If you’re following the Osteoporosis Reversal Program this is certainly not a cause of concern because of two reasons. With the 80/20 pH-balanced nutritional plan, protein intake can never be excessive. And the B vitamins necessary to tackle homocysteine levels are Foundation Supplements (more on this later).
What’s So Dangerous About Homocysteine?
At high levels, homocysteine weakens bones, resulting in fractures. As mentioned earlier, it also compromises proper heart function, and may increase the risk of depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Fracture Risk Increases With Homocysteine
Hip fractures are among the most dreaded and debilitating type of fracture. A remarkable study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism concluded that “high homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of hip fracture”.1
This may be due to homocysteine’s inhibitive effect on collagen formation. As I write in the Osteoporosis Reversal Program, “Homocysteine is typically linked with increased risk of heart disease, and it may also negatively affect bones by hindering the formation of collagen, an important bone protein.”
How Homocysteine Harms Your Heart
Homocysteine causes damage to the smooth tissue of the arterial wall. The damaged area then becomes inflamed and “rough,” causing plaque-forming materials to gather in the damaged area. The artery becomes clogged, bringing on the potential for a heart attack.
Homocysteine’s Effect On Your Brain
Interestingly, scientists have found that folic acid deficiency contributes to depression. Low folic acid levels are correlative to high homocysteine levels, and this amino acid can actually hinder normal brain function by inappropriate stimulation of nerve cell receptors.
Low levels of homocysteine-regulating nutrients contribute to neurological disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists have already linked B6, B12, and folic acid deficiency to impaired cognitive function, but just how the deficiencies caused the impairments was not known.
Now, however, with the knowledge of homocysteine and its relationship to these nutrients, research is pointing to high homocysteine levels as a prime culprit behind these devastating brain disorders.
Keeping Homocysteine In Check
Given the damage that this amino acid can do, it makes sense to keep its levels low in your body. Thankfully, there are some simple, nutritional ways to do that.
Omega-3s Decrease Homocysteine Levels
When researchers reviewed the data from 11 different placebo-controlled trials, they discovered something fascinating. Participants who took daily doses of Omega-3 fish oil ranging from 0.2 to 6.0 grams (200-6000 milligrams) had markedly decreased homocysteine levels.2 The reviewers recognized the implications, and called for further research to elucidate their findings.
There are no alkalizing foods that are high in Omega-3 fish oils, but there are plenty of fish dishes that, when properly prepared with alkalizing sides and toppings, can be a bone-healthy way of reducing homocysteine in your body. Here are some of the fish that are richest in Omega-3s:
Omega-3s are actually among the antioxidants recommended in the Osteoporosis Reversal Program, so Savers are already aware of their strengthening effect on bones.
B Vitamins Keep Homocysteine Levels Low
As discussed above, B vitamins are crucial for keeping homocysteine levels low. All of the B vitamins are Foundation Supplements in the Program, and now we know even more reasons why these nutrients are good for your bones and overall health. According to the Program, “it makes sense to take all the B-complex vitamins as they act in synergy with each other.”
Foundation Foods high in B-complex vitamins include:
- Chili peppers
- Brown Rice
- Brazil nuts
As scientists discover more and more ways in which specific body chemicals and nutrients work together to affect bone density and health, it still comes down to this basic truth as outlined in the Osteoporosis Reversal Program: bone health begins with a varied, healthful diet full of bone-building nutrients. And as you can see from today’s post, when you follow the Program, you’re also preventing nutritional imbalances that could negatively affect other aspects of your health.
So if you’re looking for ways to prepare and enjoy a diet rich in these healthful nutrients, please take a moment to check out Bone Appétit, the companion cookbook to the Program.
Healthful food is meant to be delicious!
Till next time,
1 LeBoff, Meryl S., et al. “Homocysteine Levels and Risk of Hip Fracture in Postmenopausal Women.” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2009; 94(4): 1207-1213. Web. http://kooperberg.fhcrc.org/papers/2009leboff.pdf
2 Huang, T., et al. “High consumption of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids decrease plasma homocysteine: a meta-analysis of randomized, placebo-controlled trials.” Nutrition. 2011; 27 (9): 863-7. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0032092/