B Vitamin Deficiencies Increase Homocysteine Levels & Heart Disease Risk

Vitamins in bottleHomocysteine is an amino acid that is becoming an increasingly important risk factor for coronary heart disease and strokes. Homocysteine is believed to degrade and inhibit the formation of the major components of arteries – collagen, elastin & proteoglycans which increases the rate of arterial decline leading to conditions such as atherosclerosis.

Several studies have demonstrated the link between elevated homocysteine levels and an increased risk of hospitalization and death from cardiovascular causes.

The Hordaland homocysteine study is a Norwegian study involving over 18,000 individuals. The study found that individuals with higher than average homocysteine levels in the blood tended to have higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels and more importantly, were at a much higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than individuals with lower homocysteine levels.

The following graph demonstrates the effect of high homocysteine levels on both overall mortality and on cardiovascular hospitalizations. The graph shows that as homocysteine levels increase, the odds of both dying or being hospitalized through a cardiovascular problem increase.

Graph of homocysteine levels and cardiovascular hospitalisations

The B Vitamins, particularly folic acid, B6 and B12, help convert homocysteine into useful proteins. Studies have found that dietary intake of both folate and vitamin B12 is inversely correlated with plasma homocysteine levels.

Foods rich in vitamin B6 include tuna cauliflower, bananas and asparagus. Good sources of folic acid (folate) include: spinach, dried beans and peas, citrus fruits, turnips and broccoli. Foods rich in vitamin B12 include most meats, especially poultry and fish, dairy produce, and eggs.

It is recommended that people consume at least 2 to 3 servings of foods rich in B-vitamins daily. Those over the age of 50 should consider taking a vitamin B-12 supplement as the bodies ability to absorb the vitamin decreases with age. It is estimated that as many as a quarter of those aged over the age of 50 maybe deficient in vitamin B-12.