Homocysteine is an amino acid. It is synthesized in your body as an intermediate product in the metabolism of another amino acid called methionine. Amino acids are the substrate on which proteins are built. It is like a game of legos. Several types of the 20 existing amino acids are joined, and depending on the combination you make, one or another protein will be produced.
Hyperhomocysteinemia (high homocysteine in the blood) is studied. This condition has been linked with the development of cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular and neuronal damage, being involved in the production of the damage that leads to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy.
In this FastlyHealarticle, we explain the causes of high homocysteine, what symptoms can occur and how to lower it.
Homocysteine: reference values
Each laboratory establishes the average and abnormal values of homocysteine in the blood. These may vary according to the population analyzed, primarily due to their genetic and nutritional differences and age, sex, taking medications, etc.
According to a study on the determination of homocysteine in plasma carried out by the Spanish Society of Laboratory Medicine (SEQC) 1, the reference values of homocysteine in blood could be:
- Concentrations below ten µmol / L: average homocysteine values.
- Concentrations between 10.1 and 15 µmol / L: limit values.
- Concentrations greater than 15 µmol / L: high values. However, they point out that a differentiation should be made between men, in whom up to 16 µmol / L could be accepted as a normal value, and 14 µmol / L in premenopausal women.
Causes of high homocysteine
The causes of high blood homocysteine can be congenital or acquired.
In the case of congenital hyperhomocysteinemia, the affectation occurs in children, and as a hereditary metabolic disease, it generally leads to the early death of those born with this condition.
We will focus on the causes of acquired high homocysteine, which can affect anyone. Among these, we can mention:
Vitamin B complex deficiency (B2, B6, B12, and folic acid)
It would be the most frequent cause and the easiest to treat and reverse. The presence of any of the symptoms of high homocysteine that we will mention in the next section can make you suspect a deficiency of these vitamins.
This deficit is produced by the low consumption of these nutrients in your diet. It is more common in the elderly, in whom the elimination of these vitamins in the urine can more easily be increased.
Chronic renal insufficiency
The kidney generally eliminates homocysteine. There is a significant restriction of its elimination in kidney failure that leads to its rapid elevation in the blood.
Additionally, some enzymes used in the process of metabolizing homocysteine are produced in the kidney. In renal failure, the kidney cannot make these products, further contributing to their increase.
By unknown mechanisms, patients suffering from hypothyroidism from different causes also have high homocysteine levels in the blood.
High homocysteine is produced in the case of anemia in two ways:
- At first, the deficiency of folic acid and vitamin B12 would lead to the joint production of megaloblastic anemia (a type of anemia where red blood cells become very large and fragile) and elevated homocysteine.
- The second way would be a consequence of the previous one. The deformed red blood cells lose the ability to activate the enzymes that participate in the metabolism of homocysteine, so this would rise as well.
Malignant breast, ovarian, and pancreatic tumors produce rapid cell proliferation that can raise homocysteine levels. It is used as a marker for detecting these types of tumors.
Additionally, tumor growth entails an excessive consumption of folic acid that would produce a vitamin deficiency and lead to the consequent elevation of homocysteine levels.
Use of certain medications
The use of some medications has been observed to produce high homocysteine. Among these, we find:
- Cholestyramine is used to lower cholesterol.
- Metformin is used in patients with type 2 diabetes.
- Methotrexate is a chemotherapeutic also used in the treatment of some immune diseases.
- Derivatives of fabric acid are used to lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Birth control pills.
The mechanism would be due to a reduction in the absorption of the B complex vitamins from the intestine or by altering the metabolic pathways of homocysteine.
High homocysteine: symptoms
High homocysteine by itself usually does not cause symptoms in adults. Symptoms would occur mainly in children.
If present, they would be subtle and highly variable from one person to another, simulating a deficiency of vitamin B12, folic acid, or both.
In the case of a deficit of one of the two, it could be presented as:
- Variable skin paleness.
- Soft spot.
- Tingling sensation in the hands, arms, legs, or feet.
- Mouth ulcers
- Humor changes.
- Swelling of the tongue (folic acid deficiency).
- Growing problems.
In the case of mixed deficit, it could be presented in addition to the above:
- Muscle weakness and unsteady movements.
- Personality changes
- Cardiac arrhythmias.
- Mental confusion.
How to lower high homocysteine
In general, the treatment of high homocysteine is limited to the intake of vitamin supplements of natural origin rich in B complex vitamins. We insist that they be of natural origin and not pharmacological preparations of chemical origin because their absorption and effectiveness are erratic. In general, they are eliminated in the urine without being helpful.
Additionally, essential changes should be made in the diet, adding foods rich in vitamin B and folic acid. In the following article, you can see what foods are rich in folic acid.
Of course, the medical causes that led to the elevation of homocysteine levels (tumors, hypothyroidism, etc.) will be treated, and those medications that may be the causative agents will be suspended and replaced.
This article is merely informative. At FastlyHeal .com, we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor if you present any condition or discomfort.
If you want to read more articles similar to high homocysteine: causes, symptoms, and how to lower it, we recommend that you enter our category of Blood, heart, and circulation.
I am a Surgeon with a diploma in comprehensive ultrasound and surgical care residency, an area I am specializing in. During the exercise of my profession, I have realized the need for patients to know the diseases they suffer, and I can tell you that a large part of their complications is due to a lack of information. Being a health web writer allows me to transmit my experience, without borders, to all those readers eager for knowledge, educate them in the prevention of diseases and promote a healthy lifestyle.