Homocysteine is an amino acid in the bloodstream that has been linked, when elevated, to increased risk of heart attacks, lethal blood clots and debilitating strokes. Likewise, when levels of homocysteine are too low, the immune system is unable to respond adequately to various stresses. Before attempting to make any adjustments in your homocysteine level, discuss options with your health care professional.
Determine your homocysteine level. Before you make any adjustments to your homocysteine levels, you need to know your current blood level. Talk with your health care professional to obtain a blood test that will tell you where you need to start. It is important to balance your levels so that they are not too high -- but also not too low. The normal levels of homocysteine in the blood differ only slightly between males and females. For men, normal homocysteine levels in the blood should be 4.6 to 11.9 umol/L, depending on age. For women, normal levels should be 4.5 to 11.9 umol/L, depending on age.
Lower your intake of vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. This will directly affect your homocysteine levels. These vitamins work directly on homocysteine in the blood and metabolize it, lowering the levels. Vitamin B6 can be found in cereals and grains; vitamin B12 can be found in animal meats and dairy products. Limiting your intake will cause your levels to increase.
Lower your intake of folic acid (folate). This will also directly affect your homocysteine levels. Folic acid, found in leafy green vegetables, such as asparagus and spinach, metabolizes homocysteine, resulting in lower levels in the bloodstream. Limiting your intake will cause your levels to increase.
Check your family tree. Your genetics have an impact on how much you can alter your homocysteine levels. If your family members traditionally have very low homocysteine levels, while this may be beneficial with regards to lowering risk of heart disease, you may find it impossible to raise your levels regardless of your diet adjustments. Although there is nothing you can do about this aspect of homocysteine control, it is important to know that you may have genetics working for or against you.
Quit smoking cigarettes. Even though smoking has been found to raise levels of homocysteine in the blood, the risks of smoking, such as the link to heart and lung disease, far outweigh its use as a means to increase your levels.
Drink more coffee. The caffeine found in coffee has been found to raise levels of homocysteine.
- American Heart Association: What Is Homocysteine?
- MayoClinic.com: Blood Tests for Heart Disease
- "AAFP Conditions, A to Z"; American Academy of Family Physicians; 2010
- Significance of Low Plasma Homocysteine
- "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; Contribution of Caffeine to the Homocysteine-Raising Effect of Coffee; Petra Verhoef, et al; December 2002