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Why managing homocysteine levels can help reduce your cognitive impairment risk.

Introduction

With an ageing population, nutrition could hold the key to improving our everyday brain health and delaying the onset of impaired cognitive function.

As we age, our cognitive abilities naturally decline – you may notice the speed of recalling names of family members being slower, or perhaps you can’t remember why you walked into a room. The speed of our neuro communication lessons meaning nerve transmissions in our brain slows.  Certain areas of the brain have also been shown to physically shrink with age, which can impact memory.  It has been well documented that high levels of homocysteine in the blood could increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

The link between high homocysteine and cognitive function

High homocysteine levels, also known as Hyperhomocysteinemia, is a marker for many different neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Homocysteine is a naturally occurring amino acid, and a byproduct in the body which is formed through the metabolism of the methionine found in meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds beans. The healthy breakdown of methionine, an amino acid, requires sufficient amounts of vitamin B12, B6, folate, riboflavin and betaine.

A build-up of homocysteine in the body signals there is a failure somewhere along this important process, usually due to the lack of these B vitamins. Other factors that link to the build-up of homocysteine include poor diet and lifestyle habits like smoking, high alcohol intake, prescription drugs and poor thyroid function. Some rare genetic conditions can cause the absence of a certain enzyme involved in homocysteine metabolism and therefore lead to high homocysteine levels.

There aren’t any visual symptoms of high homocysteine, and the levels can only be detected through blood tests. However, people with certain conditions are more likely to have higher homocysteine levels, including Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Vascular Disease.

Low V High homocysteine levels

Normal homocysteine levels are usually low due to its rapid conversion to other amino acids like cysteine. Cysteine is an essential substance  in the body which helps to make the antioxidant glutathione. Cysteine and glutathione have vital roles in the protection of nerves in the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation, so cysteine can help prevent major neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. High homocysteine levels show that this process to produce the protective cysteine is not occurring which increases the risk of these neurodegenerative disorders.

Who is at risk?

Elderly people are more susceptible to having lower B vitamin levels and high homocysteine, due to the B vitamins not being effectively absorbed through the diet.

Those on strict vegetarian and vegan diets are also more likely to have high levels of homocysteine due to the lack of important B vitamins. In one study group, it was shown that the average homocysteine level in vegetarians was 13.18 compared to 10.19 in omnivores and the frequency of hyperhomocysteinemia was 29% in vegetarian’s compared to 5% in omnivores.

How can we reduce high homocysteine levels?

To help reduce homocysteine, incorporate as many B vitamins in the diet as possible. Vitamin B6 and B12 can only be found in meat, eggs, fish, and dairy.  You can also increase your vitamin B6 by consuming  avocados, potatoes, bananas, chickpeas, beans, nuts, and brewer’s yeast. Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is found in eggs, dairy, meat, and fish, almonds (highest source for vegans), bananas, avocados, mushrooms, leafy green vegetables, and soybeans. Folate (vitamin B9) can be found in the highest amounts in liver, and green vegetables like spinach and broccoli. Betaine is found in root vegetables, spinach, and whole grains. Yeast extract is an amazing source of B vitamins for vegan and vegetarian diets; however, it doesn’t contain vitamin B12 so it’s essential to supplement with this. All B vitamins are water soluble and not stored by the body, so the excess is eliminated straight away, therefore it’s crucial to replace them in the diet daily.

One study showed that diets high in omega 3 also helped to reduce high levels of homocysteine, omega 3 is high in oily fish and nuts.

How supplements can help

To help to reduce homocysteine levels, a good option is to choose a specially formulated supplement that contains the five main nutrients involved in the pathway to change homocysteine to cysteine, vitamins B6, B12, folate, riboflavin and betaine, also known as Trimethylglycine or TMG. A study carried out on one hundred adults showed that after daily supplementation with a low dose of folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and betaine for 12 weeks, homocysteine levels were significantly reduced.

It is also important to look for supplements containing antioxidants because of their effectiveness in supporting brain health due to their anti-inflammatory properties and free radical scavenging powers.  Ingredients like zinc and CoQ10 are good ones to look out for too. Also ensure you are choosing supplements with 100% active ingredients and no junk and  such as  additives and fillers as they have no nutritional value and used to benefit the manufacturing process. .

For more support and advice about homocysteine levels and health, head to your local health food store to help support lifestyle and supplementation change.  Visit findahealthstore.com

 

Author: Eleanor Faulkner, BSc, is a Nutrition Advisor at Viridian Nutrition. She holds a BSc honours degree in Food Technology with Nutrition.

References

Sohouli, M et al. 2022. Impact of Omega-3 supplementation on homocysteine levels in humans: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis of randomized controlled trials, Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis, 32(9), DOI: 10.1016/j.numecd.2022.05.008

Krajcovicva-Kudlackova et al. 2000. Homocysteine levels in vegetarians versus omnivores, Annals of nutrition and metabolism, 44 (3), https://doi.org/10.1159/000012827

Lu, X. et al. 2023. Effects of low-dose B vitamins plus betaine supplementation on lowering homocysteine concentrations among Chinese adults with hyperhomocysteinemia: a randomized, double-blind, controlled preliminary clinical trial, European journal of nutrition, 62(4), pp1599-1610.

Bains et al. Neurodegenerative disorders in humans: the role of glutathione in oxidative stress-mediated neuronal death, Brain Research Reviews, 25 (3), pp335-358

 

The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet




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