Homocysteine 101: What It Is & Why It Matters

Reviewed by Jeremie Walker, MD, MBA · February 28, 2023
high homocysteine levels symptoms

Homocysteine might not be a word you hear every day, but this little amino acid can significantly impact your health and longevity. Studies have linked elevated levels to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and other health problems. But don’t panic just yet – you can take steps to lower your levels and reduce your risk of complications. In this blog post, we’ll examine homocysteine, how it’s measured, and why it matters for men’s health and longevity. 

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What Is Homocysteine?

Homocysteine is a non-protein amino acid produced in the body during the breakdown of methionine, an essential amino acid found in protein-rich foods. It plays a role in various biochemical processes, including the synthesis of proteins, the maintenance of the myelin sheath that surrounds nerves, and the production of DNA.

Under normal circumstances, the body processes homocysteine into other harmless substances. However, when the metabolism of methionine to cysteine is hindered, the body experiences a rise in homocysteine levels. 

What Happens When Your Homocysteine is High?

When homocysteine levels are elevated, it can damage the lining of blood vessels, causing them to become narrower and more prone to blood clots. This can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. Elevated levels are also associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

High homocysteine may not be apparent initially, but as the condition progresses, symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath may develop. In some cases, high levels can also cause peripheral neuropathy, which affects the nerves in the hands and feet and can cause numbness, tingling, and pain.

What Causes Homocysteine to Be Elevated?

Several factors can contribute to elevated homocysteine levels. One of the most common causes is a deficiency in vitamins B6, B12, and folate, which are essential for the breakdown of homocysteine in the body. Other factors that can contribute to high levels include:

  • Genetics – The MTHFR gene provides instructions for making the MTHFR enzyme, which helps to break down homocysteine in the body. Mutations in the MTHFR gene can impair the enzyme’s function, resulting in elevated homocysteine levels. If an individual has a family history of high homocysteine levels or related health conditions, they may want to consider genetic testing for MTHFR mutations to identify any genetic factors that may be contributing to high homocysteine levels.
  • Age – Homocysteine levels tend to increase with age.
  • SmokingSmoking can damage blood vessels and increase homocysteine levels.
  • Drinking – Heavy alcohol consumption can interfere with the body’s ability to metabolize homocysteine.
  • Kidney Disease – Kidney disease can impair the body’s ability to eliminate homocysteine.

How Can I Reduce Homocysteine in My Body?

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to reduce homocysteine levels in your body. 

1. Uplevel Your Diet

One of the most effective ways to lower homocysteine levels is to increase your intake of vitamins B6, B12, and folate. Foods rich in these vitamins include leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and animal products like eggs, fish, red meat, poultry, and organ meat such as beef liver. The most bioavailable sources are found in animal products.

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2. Exercise Often

In addition to dietary changes, studies have indicated that regular exercise can help reduce homocysteine levels. For example, a 12-week study on previously sedentary middle-aged men demonstrated that regular aerobic exercise could significantly reduce levels. Another study suggests that resistance training is best. Regardless, aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week will offer plenty of health benefits in addition to lowering homocysteine. 

3. Avoid Smoking & Excess Drinking

It is also important to avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, as these habits can contribute to elevated levels.

4. Take Supplements

If lifestyle changes are not enough to lower your homocysteine levels, your doctor may recommend taking a supplement that contains these vitamins. 

5. Measure Regularly

Finally, regularly monitoring your homocysteine levels is crucial, especially if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease or other risk factors. A simple blood test can measure your levels, and your doctor can help you interpret the results and develop a plan to reduce your risk of complications.

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Blood Tests for Homocysteine: How It’s Done

As part of our longevity program, Opt Health can test your homocysteine levels through a simple blood test. This test can be performed at a LabCorp location, or, in certain areas, we can have one of our practitioners come to your home or office. 

The results of a homocysteine test will show the amount in your blood, typically measured in micromoles per liter (μmol/L). The normal range is generally between 5-15 μmol/L. However, some experts suggest optimal levels should be below 10-12 μmol/L.

The technical name for a higher-than-normal homocysteine level is hyperhomocysteinemia. The severity of hyperhomocysteinemia can vary, and your doctor will consider your age, sex, and other factors when interpreting your test results. Generally, levels above 15 μmol/L are considered elevated, and levels above 30 μmol/L are considered very high.

Homocysteine is just one of the 60+ biomarkers Opt Health measures and monitors. Our clients receive one-on-one support and a customized health optimization protocol. Reducing homocysteine levels is one of the many goals we can help you achieve. Opt Health also offers testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), and treatments for ED, hair loss, and more. Click here or call (855) 443-8678 to get started. 

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