Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) – High Homocysteine Level – How It Affects Your Vessels
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What is homocysteine?
Homocysteine is an amino acid (a building block of protein) that is produced in the body.
How is a high homocysteine level harmful?
High homocysteine levels in the blood can damage the lining of the arteries. High levels may also make blood clot more easily than it should. This can increase the risk of blood vessel blockages. A clot inside your blood vessel is called a thrombus. A thrombus can travel in the bloodstream and get stuck in your:
- Lungs (called a pulmonary embolism),
- Brain (which can cause a stroke)
- Heart (which can cause a heart attack.)
People who have very high levels of homocysteine are at an increased risk for coronary artery disease.
What causes a high homocysteine level?
Homocysteine is normally changed into other amino acids for use by the body. Vitamin B helps your body use the homocysteine. If your homocysteine level is too high, you may not be getting enough B vitamins to help your body use the homocysteine.
Most people who have a high homocysteine level don’t get enough folate (also called folic acid), vitamin B6 or vitamin B12 in their diet. Replacing these vitamins often helps return the homocysteine level to normal. Other possible causes of a high homocysteine level include:
- Low levels of thyroid hormone.
- Kidney disease.
- Some medicines.
- When the condition runs in your family.
How is the homocysteine level measured?
Homocysteine is measured using a simple blood test. If your homocysteine level is too high, you need to lower it, especially if you have blockages in your blood vessels. If you have no other major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and you do not have atherosclerosis (a buildup of plaque in your arteries), your healthcare provider may take a watchful waiting approach and monitor the level closely. If your homocysteine level increases further, you may need to lower it.
No studies have shown that lowering homocysteine levels helps reduce strokes, heart attacks, or other cardiovascular conditions. But a high homocysteine level is a risk for heart disease. So it’s a good idea to lower it if you can.
Path to improved health
How can I lower a high homocysteine level?
Eating more fruits and vegetables (especially leafy green vegetables) can help lower your homocysteine level by increasing how much folate you get in your diet. Good sources of folate include:
- Many breakfast cereals.
- Fortified grain products.
- Most beans.
You may need to increase the amount of vitamin B-6 in your diet. Foods that are rich in vitamin B-6 include:
- Fortified breakfast cereals.
- Garbanzo beans (chickpeas).
You also may need to increase the amount of vitamin B-12 you eat. Good sources of vitamin B-12 include:
- Dairy products.
- Organ meats (such as liver).
- Some types of fish.
Adjusting your diet may not be enough to lower your homocysteine level. If it’s not, your healthcare provider may suggest supplements.
Things to consider
You may need to have some tests to see if you have another health condition that causes high homocysteine levels. If you have had a high homocysteine level, you will probably need to have your level checked regularly (2 or 3 times a year).