A deficiency of B-Vitamins can cause elevated levels of the amino acid homocysteine. Whether or not you have high cholesterol, homocysteine is an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis and can cause you to have heart disease.
Atherosclerosis is more than a simple matter of cholesterol sticking to your arterial walls. Other factors are involved in atherosclerosis, among them, homocysteine, a by-product of a chemical reaction that takes place during the digestion and breakdown of protein.
How the body handles homocysteine
Because homocysteine is extremely toxic to the body, our system has a way to get rid of it. This is how it does it:
- Homocysteine is normally converted into the harmless amino acid methionine with the help of folic acid and vitamin B-12.
- Homocysteine can be also converted into cysteine, another amino acid, with the assistance of vitamin B-6.
Through this process, our body is protected against atherosclerosis, cancer, and dementia.
When you are deficient in B vitamins
But if you are deficient in these B vitamins, the following sequence of events may take place:
- Homocysteine builds up inside your cells and eventually spills into the bloodstream.
It then interferes with the utilization of oxygen in the body and results in the
- formation of free radicals.
- These free radicals harm the lining of the arteries.
- Homocysteine also promotes the formation of blood clots.
- Allows LDL cholesterol to be more easily deposited in the artery walls
Malinow MR and colleagues conducted a study where they followed 80,000 women for 14 years. The researchers found that the incidence of heart attacks was lowest among those who used multivitamins or had the highest intake of folic acid and B6 from dietary sources.
Another study conducted by Schnyder G and colleagues involving 553 patients who had had successful angioplasty has found that lower levels of homocysteine significantly decreased the incidence of angina and heart attacks after angioplasty.
The participants received a combination of folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6 or a placebo for 6 months and were followed for about six more months. The study found that the incidence of heart attacks was about one third less in the group that took the vitamins than in the one that took the placebo.
Sources or B6, B12, and folic acid
The B vitamins have common dietetic sources; they are soluble in water and are quickly assimilated by our bodies. Since they are also eliminated through the urine, we have to ingest them on a daily basis through our diet.
Pyridoxine – B6
Vitamin B6 is found in a wide variety of foods:
- Peanut butter
- Garbanzo beans
- Lima beans
- Cereals, oatmeal
- Chicken breast
Folic Acid – B9
Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in food. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is found in supplements and added to fortified foods. Main sources of folate are found in:
- Green vegetables
- Whole grains.
Cobalamin – B12
Vitamin B12 is found in:
- Yogurt, dairy products
- Fish, clams, oysters
- Non-fat dry milk
- Salmon, sardines
- Beef, chicken
- Fortified cereals.
Absorption of B12
People over 50 may have some difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 through the lining of the stomach, causing a deficiency of this vitamin. Dr. Herbert believes that everyone over age 50 should take B12 supplements since gastric atrophy is common as people age.
Whatever your age is, make sure your diet provides you with an adequate intake of the B-Vitamins complex to prevent homocysteine from accumulating in your arteries. Keeping homocysteine at a distance is a safe way to prevent atherosclerosis and heart disease.