Guest Blog by Arland Hill, DC, MPH, DACBN
Homocysteine came to light in the research on the back of cardiovascular disease. Well respected clinician and researcher Kilmer McCully, MD noted the correlation between cardiovascular disease initiation and development and elevated homocysteine levels. Since this discovery, homocysteine research has uncovered additional areas whereby elevations in homocysteine may be a risk factor for damage.
Homocysteine, an amino acid with several health implications, is a measure of a process known as methylation. Methylation, which is the donation of a methyl or single carbon group, has multiple roles in the body. Some of these include hepatic detoxification, DNA and RNA replication and neurological function. The idea that homocysteine as a measure of cardiovascular is its most useful role short-changes the multitude of other areas where homocysteine has clinical significance.
Homocysteine has received recent attention in the area of neurology. Various forms of dementia and neurodegeneration have been linked to homocysteine. Moreover, none of the elucidated pathways have to do with cardiovascular disease or inhibited blood supply to the brain. The two most classical neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease both have links to homocysteine. Alzheimer’s, which is characterized by amyloid and tau protein formation, results in degeneration of the hippocampal region of the brain, where short term memory is formulated and processed into long term memory. Though not completely related to homocysteine accumulation, it does appear that formation of these proteins is in part related to homocysteine. Likewise, elevations in homocysteine are also associated with Parkinson’s and degeneration of the dopamine producing areas and pathways. Worst yet though is that the common treatment for Parkinson’s, levadopa, increases homocysteine levels, making the need for homocysteine lowering therapy even more critical. It can be stated that excess levels of homocysteine increase the risk of whole brain atrophy. However, the impact of homocysteine hardly stops here.
Homocysteine is known to damage soft tissues, but what about the hard tissues of the body such as bone. Elevations alter the structural aspect of the bone making it less dense and ultimately weaker setting the stage for osteoporosis.
The red and white blood cells are not protected from the effects of homocysteine either. Homocysteine has been shown to directly promote blood clotting through induction of thrombin, a promoter of platelet aggregation. Neutrophils, the first line defense against bacteria and foreign substances, when active present receptors that are sensitive to homocysteine. This promotes additional stimulation of other immune system cells resulting in a heightened response that can be overactive.
Homocysteine can also directly impact how you feel and look. Insulin resistance, a state commonly assessed by higher insulin levels, is tied to homocysteine. Homocysteine elevations impair the ability of the liver to store excess glucose, thus forcing it to stay in the blood stream. This ultimately makes the insulin resistance presentation worse, and since the cells do not get the energy they need, fatigue sets in. To add insult to injury, homocysteine damages both your external skin that the world sees, and also your internal organs. In a nutshell, this can be viewed as universal aging.
If you want to look your best, feel your best, and have an overall state of general wellness, homocysteine levels should be viewed routinely.
Arland Hill, DC, MPH, DACBN - Complete Care Chiropractic and Wellness