Homocysteine is naturally produced by the body during methylation. Methylation is an essential process in the body, which involves the transfer of a methyl group, comprising one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms. Methylation is involved in a wide array of processes in the body, including the expression of DNA, liver detoxification and also metabolism of several hormones and neurotransmitters.
The methylation process is dependent on many nutrients, chiefly folate and B12, and therefore when deficiency of these nutrients occurs this can impair methylation leading to an increase in homocysteine levels. Furthermore, other factors such as chronic stress, kidney disease, consuming high amounts of alcohol and genetic variations of genes involved in the methylation process, may further increase risk of having raised homocysteine levels.
Raised homocysteine increases levels of inflammation in the body, has a detrimental impact on the structural integrity of blood vessels, and also affects gene expression. These factors may in turn increase the risk of developing chronic diseases, and a recent review has suggested that raised homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of around 100 diseases or undesirable outcomes, in particular:
- cardiovascular disease,
- Alzheimer’s disease,
- Parkinson’s disease,
Research has indicated that increasing intake of folate and B12, as well as omega-3, can help to reduce levels of homocysteine. This can be done through increasing green leafy vegetables (folate), chicken and fish (B12), and increasing oily fish (omega-3), as well as through supplementation of these nutrients (particularly if vegetarian / vegan, for B12 and omega-3). Always consult your GP and a qualified nutrition practitioner before starting a new supplement regimen.
Regarding testing homocysteine levels, the majority of the options require a referral from a doctor, nutritional practitioner, or other healthcare practitioner, who can work alongside 1-2-1 to help interpret results and support with implementing changes. Our recommendations follow a recent review which considers that, for an adult, values of 10 or below are probably safe but that values of 11 or above may justify intervention. If there are concerns regarding homocysteine, it is important to see a doctor in the first instance. In terms of finding a qualified, registered dietitian / nutrition practitioner, there are a few options:
- A directory of registered nutritionists is available from the Association for Nutrition (AfN)
- A directory of registered nutritional therapists is available from the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT).
For individuals looking to self-refer, Medichecks facilitates this option for individuals who are able to travel to their partner clinic in London.
Please note that we are not engaged with Medichecks in any way and this information does not constitute a recommendation.