One event that triggers inflammation in your body is the creation of a wound in the artery wall. Another is the formation of a large blood clot over the wound which leads to a heart attack or stroke. The bad news is that homocysteine is part of both events. The good news is that this health predicament can be reversed.
What is homocysteine?
Homocysteine is a substance that becomes elevated in our body as a result of eating too much red meat and other animal proteins. High levels of homocysteine act like burning acid on your artery walls, creating injuries in the walls of arteries. Once the artery is wounded, inflammation takes place. In addition, homocysteine increases the likelihood of the blood forming lots.
To keep homocysteine at a healthy level, our body needs a good supply of folic acid and the vitamins B6 and B12. But because processing animal protein also requires these three vitamins, when we eat too much animal products we use them and not enough are left to lower the level of homocysteine.
More homocysteine, more oxidants
Oxidants, also known as free radicals, are molecules of oxygen very reactive that damage our cells. Oxidants come from several sources:
Our immune system release oxidants to combat bacteria in our body.
High fat diets
High levels of homocysteine
These three factors flood our blood and artery tissues with oxidants. These oxidants cause the decay of LDL particles inside the artery walls. Once LDL is oxidized, a chain of events take place: inflammation, more oxidation, and larger and larger plaques.
Homocysteine can make things worse
In addition to its contribution to the formation of plaques, homocysteine also constrict the arteries. Arteries need to contract and expand to regulate the passage of blood, but homocysteine forces the arteries to narrow. Thus, the combination of plaque and narrowing of the arteries creates a time bomb for a heart attack or stroke.
High levels of homocysteine increases the thickness of the blood and its tendency to form clots, a primary cause of heart attacks and strokes.
To make a long story short, homocysteine can:
- Help plaque form inside the arteries
- Constrict the arteries
- Increase the thickness of the blood and its tendency to form clots.
High animal protein, high homocysteine
From all the above we see that we don’t want to have high levels of homocysteine in our body. However, when we have a diet high in animal protein such as red meat, chicken, eggs, and dairy products that is what happens.
The way it happens is as follows:
- Eating animal products increases an amino acid called methionine
- Methionine is converted into homocysteine
- The higher the methionine, the higher the homocysteine
- The body uses folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 to breakdown homocysteine to
- harmless substances
- When homocysteine is high, it requires larger amounts of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12
- If the body is low in these vitamins, homocysteine levels rise
Where do you get these vitamins?
Folic acid and vitamin B6 are found primarily in plant foods, mainly green vegetables and whole grains. If these foods are not part of your diet, chances are you are not getting enough folic acid and vitamin B6 to keep homocysteine levels down.
Vitamin B12 tends to be concentrated in animal foods. If your homocysteine and LDL cholesterol level are high, stay away from animal foods and take a B12 supplement. If they are normal, you can have animal protein in moderation.
The researchers at the Harvard Nurses’ Study have shown that women who consumed the highest amount of folic acid and vitamin B6 had only half the risk of dying of a heart attack as women with the lowest intakes of these vitamins.
Have your homocysteine checked
I would recommend that you check your homocysteine level. Normal homocysteine level ranges from 4 to 12 micromoles per liter of blood, or µmol/L.
According to some studies, every 5 µmol/L increase in homocysteine represents a 60 to 80 percent increase in the risk of heart disease. That puts you in the high risk category for a heart attack or a stroke.
Other research has shown that a 5 µmol/L increase in homocysteine is the equivalent of a 20 mg/dL increase in blood cholesterol. This is a lot, since the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has shown that a 1 percent increase in cholesterol amounts to a 2 percent increase in your risk of heart disease.
The source of antioxidants and health
The way you can keep homocysteine levels at bay is by reducing the consumption of animal protein and increasing your consumption of vegetables, beans, fruit, and whole grains.
Homocysteine does much of its damage by being a big source of oxidants which cause heart disease, cataracts, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, asthma and many others. Oxidants are the driving force behind aging.
So, why do you need to eat vegetables? Because that’s where the nutrients and antioxidants are. The source of all nutrition is plants. Animal foods have certain nutrient such as calcium and iron for example, but they do not provide the whole array of nutrients that plants do. In fact, animal foods do not contain antioxidants
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, at Tufts University in Boston, have ranked foods according to their antioxidant content. Here is a small list of the best sources of antioxidants, many of which are also highly anti-inflammatory:
- Blueberries – considered the greatest source of antioxidants in the food supply
- Concord grape juice
- Cranberry juice
- Green vegetables such as collard greens, kale, and spinach
- Brussels sprouts
If your blood test shows that your cholesterol and triglyceride levels are within a healthy range, don’t get to comfortable. You also need to check your homocysteine level because in spite of your other two parameters being okay, you may still have heart disease caused by a high level of homocysteine in your blood.
High cholesterol, high triglycerides, and high homocysteine levels can be reversed by eating the proper diet. Remember, less animal foods and more plant foods.