Managing Your Homocysteine

What is Homocysteine?

Homocysteine, made from the amino acid methionine, is produced by the body and found in the blood. It should normally be present in very low quantities (Holford, 2004, p.136). Your body turns it either into the body's most important antioxidant, glutathione, or into a methyl donor called SAMe (s-adenosyl methionine), a crucial type of "intelligent" nutrient for both brain and body (Holford, 2004, p.136).

The intra-cellular glutathione level indicates your antioxidant "IQ". All the supplements, including antioxidants, taken daily will only be effective if they eventually raise the intra-cellular glutathione (Holford, 2004, p.138).

Similarly, the level of cellular SAMe measures your methyl "IQ" as it keeps the body's biochemistry flexible by easily donating a methyl group, or accept one back (Holford, 2004, p.138).

Causes and Concerns

Studies show that without optimal amounts of B vitamins in your diet, your homocysteine level rises dangerously (Holford, 2004, p.136).

Holford (2004) says that elevated homocysteine level increases the risk of over fifty diseases, including heart attacks, strokes, certain cancers and diabetes (p.136). Homocysteine has also been shown to damage arteries, brain and DNA itself (Holford, 2004, p.138).

Expert’s Opinion

Elevated homocysteine levels, Nabili (n.d.) says, may be due to severe genetic causes or other milder causes. He says that in the genetic condition, homocystinuria, commonly found in childhood, an important enzyme is lacking. This leads to extremely high homocysteine levels. The symptoms in this rare and serious condition include developmental delay, osteoporosis, visual abnormalities, formation of blood clots and advanced atherosclerosis.

The more common causes, Nabili (n.d.) continues, are the milder genetic variations, hyperhomocysteinemia. Here, the enzymes malfunction and are inefficient due to minor structural abnormality. This slows down homocysteine breakdown and hence, increases homocysteine levels.

Studies also show high homocysteine level in people with schizophrenia and scleroderma (Lipski, 2005, p.361; p.365). However, this important risk factor can be reversed in weeks (Holford, 2004, p.136). Studies have shown that the deficient enzyme works better when daily B12 and folic acid intakes are increased (Holford, 2004, p.137).

The American Heart Association (2008) reaffirms that both diet and genetic factors strongly influence homocysteine levels.

Risk Factors

Experts believe that the ideal homocysteine level is below 6 units. (Holford, 2004, p.141) It is important to get tested if you have any of the following risk factors (Holford, 2004, p.141)

  1. Genetic inheritance (family history of heart disease, strokes, cancer, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia or diabetes),
  2. Folate intake of less than 900mcg/day
  3. Increasing age
  4. Male
  5. Oestrogen deficiency
  6. Excessive alcohol
  7. Caffeine intake
  8. Smoking
  9. Lack of exercise
  10. Hostility and repressed anger
  11. Inflammatory bowel diseases (celiac, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis)
  12. H. pylori-generated ulcers
  13. Pregnancy
  14. Strict vegetarian or vegan
  15. High-fat diet, or
  16. High salt intake.


Methylation is a biochemical event that activates changes in the body. Technically, it is the body's ability to maintain chemical balance by adding or subtracting molecules called methyl groups when it turns one thing into another, like changing adrenaline from noradrenalin, and vice versa (Holford, 2004, p.138). It is crucial to the health of our cells and tissues, and occurs a billion times every second (Holford, 2004, p.138).

Methylation controls both synthesis and repair of DNA (Holford, 2004, p.284). Holford (2004) associates homocysteine with many cancers as homocysteine can reflect any methylation problems, and methylation problems have been shown to be the root cause of these cancers.

Dietary Recommendation

Experts agree that nutrition and lifestyle habits influence the homocysteine level (The American Heart Association, 2008; The American AcademyofFamily Physicians, 2008; Nabili, n.d.; Holford, 2004, p.142; Lipski, p.5).

To normalize the homocysteine level, Holford (2004) recommends his H Factor Diet, which is as follows: (p.143)

  • Maximum four servings a week of lean meat; fish (not fried) at least three times a week; and if not allergic or intolerant, a serving of a soy-based food or beans at least five times a week. Eat less fatty meat.
  • At least five servings of a variety of fruit or vegetables a day.
  • Either have a clove of garlic, or take a garlic supplement daily.
  • Limit or avoid use of salt
  • Reduce tea and coffee consumption. Use herbal teas and grain coffees instead.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Correct oestrogen deficiency.

Nutritional Supplement Regime

Homocysteine levels are responsive to dietary supplements. It is possible for even high levels to be brought under control.

  • Supplement a high-strength multivitamin and mineral daily. It should provide at least 25mg of the main B vitamins, 200mcg of folate and 10mcg each of vitamins B12 and B6, plus A, D and E, and the minerals magnesium, selenium, chromium and zinc. Supplement 1g of vitamin C for general health (Holford, 2004, p.143).
  • Take homocysteine-lowering supplements - vitamins B2, B6, B12, folic acid, trimethyl glycine (TMG) and zinc. The amount you need for each of these nutrients will depend on your current homocysteine level.

This powerful combination is the quickest way to restore a normal H score, below 6 units. (Holford, 2004, p.144)

Special Cautions and Precautions

High homocysteine have been shown to actually cause heart disease (Holford, 2004, p.138). Lowering it removes the cause, and hence the risk. Those with a history of cardiovascular disease often have a level above 15 units. Lowering homocysteine to six units can cut risk by 75 percent! (Holford, 2004, p.139)

Cancer is triggered by damage to DNA. High homocysteine level makes your DNA more vulnerable to irreparable damage. (Holford, 2004, p.139) Homocysteine has been found to be a very good measure of whether cancer therapies are working. (Holford, 2004, p.139) Homocysteine level rises when tumours grow,and falls when they shrink (Holford, 2004, p.139). Low homocysteine may reduce your risk of certain cancers by a third, and to more than half if dietary and supplement changes are also made (Holford, 2004, p.139).

The unusually high insulin in most diabetics has been shown to prevent the body from lowering and maintaining a healthier homocysteine level (Holford, 2004, p.140). The homocysteine-lowering diet and supplements can help reduce the risk of diabetes, and for diabetics, can help keep the condition under better control (Holford, 2004, p.140).

Your risk of developing Alzheimer's in later years can be halved by following a homocysteine-lowering regime (Holford, 2004, p.140). Homocysteine is one of the tests you can use to check for vitamin B12 insufficiency. (Lipski, 2005, p.193)

Some Helpful Approaches for Reducing Homocysteine

The recommended nutrients, when taken together, have been shown to be more effective in reducing the homocysteine scores, than taken individually. With the recommended diet you can potentially half your homocysteine score in weeks (Holford, 2004, p.144). Holford (2004) reassures that with a guaranteed solution, anyone, young or old, can begin to do something about their homocysteine level (p.141).

Homocysteine could be the best marker for achieving optimum nutrition and your risk of degenerative diseases (Holford, 2004, p.138).


AmericanAcademyof Family Physicians. (2008, July).

Homocysteine Retrieved August 31, 2008, from

American Heart Association. (2008, August 30).

What is homocysteine? Retrieved August 31, 2008, from

Holford, P. (2004).

New optimum nutrition bible.London: Piatkus Books Ltd.

Lipski, E. (2005).

Digestive wellness.New York: McGraw-Hill.

Nabili, S. (n.d.).

Homocysteine Retrieved August 31, 2008, from