Beginning in the late 1990s, medical researchers began to suspect that high levels of homocysteine (a substance produced when the body breaks down the amino acid methionine) may accelerate atherosclerosis , the primary cause of heart attacks , strokes , and intermittent claudication . During a brief period, it was widely proclaimed that homocysteine was an even more important risk factor for heart disease than cholesterol . However, it currently appears that reducing homocysteine provides minimal benefits, if any.
Most of the supporting evidence for a homocysteine–atherosclerosis connection comes from observational studies that found an association between high levels of homocysteine and increased atherosclerosis. Observational studies, however, do not show cause and effect. It is quite possible that unknown underlying factors increase homocysteine levels and also accelerate atherosclerosis, rather than that high homocysteine causes accelerated atherosclerosis. Only intervention trials (studies where people are actually given a treatment) can show whether a treatment is effective.
People with diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease ( Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis ) and those undergoing kidney dialysis may be at higher than normal risk for elevated homocysteine levels. A simple blood test can determine homocysteine levels. Both conventional and alternative practitioners use the natural substances described in the next section to treat elevated homocysteine.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Nonetheless, as noted above, studies utilizing high doses of these vitamins for lowering homocysteine and therefore preventing cardiovascular disease have generally failed to find benefit. For more information on these nutrients, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Vitamin B 6 , Vitamin B 12 , and Folate articles.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 08/22/2013 -