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Heart Disease and Homocysteine

There has been a lot of talk lately about a compound called homocysteine and its relationship to heart disease.

Homocysteine is a common amino acid (one of the building blocks that make up proteins) found in the blood and is acquired mostly from eating meat. High levels of homocysteine are related to the early development of heart and blood vessel disease. In fact, an elevated level is considered an independent risk factor for heart disease. High homocysteine is associated with low levels of vitamin B6, B12, and folate and renal disease. Research has shown, however, that reducing your homocysteine levels with vitamins does not reduce the risk of heart disease. 

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, at no cost to you. Learn more. 

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How Does Homocysteine Increase Heart Disease Risk?

Doctors aren't sure how or even if homocysteine increases the risk of heart and blood vessel disease, but there appears to be a link between high homocysteine levels and damage to the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and the formation of blood clots.

Do I Need to Have My Homocysteine Level Checked?

Currently, there is no universal recommendation for checking homocysteine levels. The test is still relatively expensive, it isn't widely available, and it is rarely covered by insurance.

 

Can High Homocysteine Levels Be Prevented?

It is reasonable for high-risk patients with high homocysteine levels to increase their intake of B vitamins. These vitamins can be found in a wide variety of fruits, green, leafy vegetables, and grain products fortified with folic acid.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on February 22, 2014
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