What’s the buzz about homocysteine?
Homocysteine is an amino acid in the blood that is broken down (metabolized) by folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. Low amounts of these vitamins in the body may be related to elevated homocysteine levels, as well as kidney disease, smoking, and certain genetic conditions. High levels of homocysteine, in turn, are associated with an increased risk of circulatory diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and peripheral vascular disease. Homocysteine seems to raise heart disease risk by promoting atherosclerosis and the formation of blood clots.
An oily fix for high homocysteine
The new study pooled data from 11 different trials involving 702 people that looked at the connection between omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil and homocysteine levels. The amount of omega-3 oil used in the studies ranged from 0.2 to 9 grams per day and the studies lasted from 6 to 48 weeks. The people were between 30 and 70 years old and most of them had diabetes or heart disease.
Compared with placebo, omega-3 fatty acids significantly reduced homocysteine levels. While the authors of the study found these results encouraging, they offered a word of caution about interpreting their significance: “These analyses are based on different populations, and genetic and environmental differences between these populations may affect the findings,” said lead author, Tao Huang of Zhejiang University, China.
Be heart smart
The American Heart Association says that there is not enough evidence yet to support treating high blood levels of homocysteine for heart disease prevention, but many practitioners still recommend keeping levels in check with diet and lifestyle changes.
To help keep your ticker in top shape, try these tips.
- Lose weight if you need to. Being overweight increases the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. Losing weight is one of the simplest and most effective strategies for lowering your heart disease risk.
- Monitor your blood pressure. Having high blood pressure makes your heart work harder just to keep your blood circulating. High blood pressure is a risk factor for hardening of the arteries, stroke, heart attack, and diabetes.
- Eat right. Diet really is medicine when it comes to keeping your heart healthy. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains provides your body with nutrients to lower your blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise daily. At least a half an hour per day is what’s recommended for most adults to reap the heart benefits of exercise. If you have trouble doing it all at once, break it up with three short walks around the block, park far from the grocery store entrance, and opt for the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Don’t smoke. If you smoke, you owe it to your health to stop. Quitting smoking now drastically reduces your risk of heart disease, respiratory disease, and many cancers.
- Consider a supplement. Taking a B-complex and fish oil capsules might help lower homocysteine levels, possibly reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke. Discuss this with your doctor, especially if you are managing a health condition.
(J Nutr 2011;doi:10.1016/j.nutr.2010.12.011)