Studies have shown that depleted levels of B vitamins often lead to higher levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid that occurs in the blood when the essential amino acid methionine breaks down.
Homocysteine has been associated with heart disease.
In fact the European Concerted Action Project found that high levels of homocysteine in the blood caused twice the risk of coronary atherosclerosis compared to people with normal homocysteine levels.
Evidence suggests that homocysteine may promote atherosclerosis by damaging the inner lining of arteries and promoting blood clots. Some believe that LDL cholesterol is so damaging precisely because it is the vehicle that transports homocysteine to the arteries. This statistic alone indicates that homocysteine is a major concern to heart health.
There is an inverse relationship between blood levels of homocysteine and those of vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid. In other words, the more homocysteine in the blood the less B vitamins there are. One recent theory actually attributes most heart attacks to a deficiency in these three B vitamins.
Homocysteine is degraded by certain enzymes that depend on sufficient levels of the three B vitamins. When all works as it should homocysteine is converted into a harmless form that can be excreted naturally. Without the presence of B6, B12 and folic acid this breakdown process cannot work properly. Homocysteine therefore builds up in the blood and is free to do its damage.
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Of the three B vitamins, folic acid is apparently more effective in the reduction of homocysteine levels. It primarily functions as a coenzyme in many biochemical reactions involving protein metabolism.
The exact role of folic acid in the breakdown of homocysteine is not clearly understood. However, it is clear that without sufficient folic acid (as well as B6 and B12) homocysteine does not breakdown. And when homocysteine levels are high so is the risk for coronary heart disease. Folic acid, whether from foods or food supplements, reduces homocysteine levels especially when combined with vitamin B12.
Therefore, eat more foods that contain folic acid such as vegetables, nuts, beans, and fruits. Interestingly, studies have shown that folic acid is absorbed twice as well from supplements than it is from natural foods. Get as much of the B vitamins from your food as you can. But to make sure you are getting enough take a high quality multivitamin or stress B-complex that contains at least 400-800 mcg of folic acid.
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