A Healthy Heart

Although homocysteine is associated with a wide array of conditions the most conclusive and also most worrying is the relationship between elevated homocysteine and the vital organs – the heart and the brain.

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) accounts for more deaths than any other disease, an estimated 16.7 million globally per year. The leading cause of death both in the UK and in Europe, cardiovascular disease encompasses all diseases of the heart and surrounding blood vessels. A worry in itself, but as the population continues to grow, lifestyles become more sedentary and diets less rich in key vitamins, the effect of homocysteine will only strengthen.

Many medical experts believe that presently over 12% of all CVD deaths are attributable to elevated homocysteine levels, resulting in just over 2 million potentially preventable deaths.

Heart Attacks

Heart attacks occur when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is reduced or stopped due to a blockage in one or more of the heart’s arteries. Usually this is due to atherosclerosis, the build-up of fatty deposits inside artery walls, in which homocysteine can play a crucial role.

Homocysteine has the ability to change cholesterol into a far more sinister version which attacks artery walls. As the arteries become damaged other cells stick until they become clogged with fatty deposits, thickened and less flexible (atherosclerosis).

If the fatty deposits then rupture, a blood clot may form, blocking the artery and starving the heart muscle cells of oxygen. High homocysteine levels also help the blood to clot, further worsening the effect of the attack.

However, it’s not all bad news. A mere 3µmol/L drop in homocysteine level can lessen the likelihood of heart attacks by 16%, maintainable through regular testing and correct diet.

Strokes

Stroke is the third biggest killer worldwide. Of the globally estimated 32 million strokes and heart attacks that occur each year, 40% are fatal. However on the upside, by knowing and reducing your homocysteine level, the risk of stroke can be reduced by up to 82%.

Homocysteine is believed to play a significant role in the development of strokes. Strokes occur when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain becomes clogged or ruptures. The blockage may be caused by blood clots or other particles, such as in atherosclerosis, where fatty deposits build up inside artery walls.

Homocysteine leads the attack on artery walls by converting cholesterol into oxidised LDL cholesterol, a far more dangerous form. As the arteries become damaged, other cells begin to stick, resulting in blood vessel narrowing (atherosclerosis). In addition homocysteine helps the blood to clot, increasing the likelihood of the vessel becoming fully blocked or rupturing, depriving nerve cells in the affected part of the brain of oxygen and resulting in a stroke.

A mere 3µmol/L drop in homocysteine level will lessen the likelihood of stroke by 24%.