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What Foods Cause High Homocysteine Levels – A Guide by CARE

What Foods Cause High Homocysteine Levels – A Guide by CARE

Did your blood test state that you have elevated homocysteine levels? In your pursuit of staying healthy and optimizing your well-being, understanding the intricate balance of biochemical compounds and processes in your body is crucial. Homocysteine is an amino acid linked to cardiovascular health. Elevated levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other health issues. In this article, CARE explores causes and foods that can cause high homocysteine levels and discusses ways to optimize your health through informed dietary and lifestyle decisions.

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in Nutrition
10 min read · Feb 01, 2024

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Table of content

What Is Homocysteine?

Before we delve into specific foods that can elevate your homocysteine levels, we must grasp the basic concept of homocysteine and its role in your body. Homocysteine is an amino acid derived from the breakdown of dietary proteins. This amino acid is produced during the metabolism of methionine, an essential amino acid derived from the proteins in your foods. [1]

Under normal circumstances, your body efficiently converts homocysteine into essential substances like methionine and cysteine with the help of certain B vitamins (B6, B9, and B12). Often, people with high homocysteine levels do not have a sufficient dietary intake of folate, Vitamin B6, and B12 through their diet, which can explain their high homocysteine levels. [1]

When dietary gaps or other circumstances disrupt this conversion process, high levels of homocysteine can accumulate in your bloodstream, posing potential health risks. The levels of homocysteine in the body are tightly regulated, and elevated levels can be indicative of disruptions in these metabolic pathways. [1]

What Function Does Have Homocysteine in the Body?

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You have probably never heard of homocysteine before if it weren’t for your blood analysis or if you weren’t a doctor or scientist. So, what does homocysteine do, and why is it so important?

Homocysteine plays an important role in the so-called “methylation processes.” Methylation is a biochemical process involving the transfer of a methyl group (one carbon and three hydrogen atoms) to various molecules, influencing their structure and function. This modification is integral to the regulation of DNA, RNA, proteins, and neurotransmitters, affecting gene expression and cellular activities. [2] As you can imagine, the importance of homocysteine is vast, and we will tell you why.

Proper methylation impacts processes like cellular function, detoxification, immune function, and the maintenance of your cardiovascular and neurological well-being. [2]

So, what happens if the homocysteine concentration in your blood is disrupted?

Elevated levels of homocysteine can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation, potentially contributing to various health issues. We’ll now explain why high homocysteine levels can be harmful. [2]

Why Are High Homocysteine Levels Harmful?

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There are several reasons why you should be motivated to keep your homocysteine levels balanced. Elevated homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of vascular health problems such as cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis and blood clots. Elevated serum homocysteine can also influence your cholesterol metabolism and contribute to endothelial dysfunction, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Furthermore, this can play a role in the development and progression of hypertension (high blood pressure) [2] [3]

Additionally, high homocysteine levels can contribute to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia. [2]

Below, CARE has summarized some main health concerns that are associated with persisting high homocysteine levels:

Your Heart – Cardiovascular Health

High homocysteine levels have been strongly linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Elevated homocysteine can lead to endothelial dysfunction, a condition where the inner lining of blood vessels fails to function optimally. This dysfunction can result in reduced vasodilation, increased inflammation, and an elevated risk of atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque in the arteries. Atherosclerosis, in turn, can contribute to conditions such as coronary artery disease and increase the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes. [2]

Blood Health – Blood Clotting

Homocysteine has been associated with an increased tendency for blood clot formation, known as hypercoagulability. Excessive blood clotting can obstruct blood vessels, leading to complications such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism. As you can imagine, these conditions pose serious health risks and can have life-threatening consequences. [4]

Free Radicals & Oxidative Stress

High homocysteine levels are linked to oxidative stress, a condition characterized by an imbalance between the production of free radicals and your body's ability to neutralize them. Oxidative stress can damage cells and tissues, contributing to the progression of various chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. [5]

Neurological Implications – Toxicity in the Brain

Several studies have shown that elevated homocysteine levels have been implicated in neurological conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The exact mechanisms are not fully understood, but it is believed that homocysteine contributes to neuronal damage and impaired cognitive function, highlighting the importance of homocysteine regulation for brain health. [2] [6]

Inflammatory Processes

High homocysteine levels are associated with increased inflammation within the body. Chronic inflammation is a contributing factor to many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune disorders, and certain cancers. [2]

Now, we’ll take a look at certain foods that can contribute to high homocysteine levels. After all, for many people, high homocysteine levels result from improvable dietary choices.

What Foods Cause High Homocysteine Levels?

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There are many foods that you may eat regularly that can cause high homocysteine levels due to their high content of methionine, an amino acid that serves as a precursor to homocysteine. Foods to avoid with high homocysteine levels include red meat, particularly beef, and lamb, as they are rich in methionine, and their excessive consumption can lead to increased homocysteine levels. [7]

Likewise, certain seafood, such as tuna and swordfish, contains elevated levels of methionine, contributing to higher homocysteine. Additionally, probably to the disappointment of many, dairy products, particularly certain cheeses, can also contribute to increased homocysteine levels. [7]

Below, CARE has curated a list of what foods increase homocysteine levels: [7]

Red Meat – Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb & Venison

While red meat is a rich source of protein, it also contains high levels of methionine, a precursor to homocysteine. Additionally, cooking methods such as grilling or frying can generate compounds that further contribute to elevated homocysteine levels. To optimize your homocysteine levels, consider moderating your red meat consumption and exploring leaner protein alternatives. [7]

Dairy Products – Cheese & Cold Breakfasts

Dairy products, particularly certain types of cheese, can be a source of elevated homocysteine due to their methionine content. However, it's important to note that dairy also provides essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. Opting for low-fat or reduced-fat dairy options and incorporating a variety of protein sources can help you strike a balance. [7]

Certain Seafood – Swordfish and Tuna

Certain types of fish, such as tuna and swordfish, are high in methionine and, therefore, can contribute to elevated homocysteine levels. However, fish also provide healthy omega-3 fatty acids that can lower homocysteine levels. [8] Therefore, choose your seafood wisely and consume it moderately if you have high homocysteine levels.

Monitoring your homocysteine levels regularly and making proactive lifestyle choices can be key components of a preventive health strategy.

Despite dietary choices that cause a lack of folate and B vitamins or excessive intake of methionine, are there other aspects that can cause high homocysteine levels?

What Are Some Other Causes for a High Homocysteine Level?

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High homocysteine levels can result from various factors beyond dietary choices. Understanding these additional causes is crucial for you to have a comprehensive approach to managing your homocysteine levels and promoting your overall well-being.

CARE has summarized some other causes of elevated homocysteine levels:

Hidden In the Genes – Homocystinuria

Some people may have genetic variations that affect the enzymes responsible for homocysteine metabolism. Genetic conditions like homocystinuria are inherited and rare, but they can lead to significantly elevated homocysteine levels from birth.

Do You Take Some Special Medications?

Certain medications like methotrexate (which is prescribed for conditions such as arthritis and psoriasis) have the potential to disrupt your body's natural ability to process and eliminate homocysteine. This can result in high levels of this substance.

Do You Suffer From Chronic Kidney Disease?

Impaired kidney function can result in reduced clearance of homocysteine from the body, contributing to elevated levels.

Underactive Thyroid Function – Hypothyroidism

Underactive thyroid function (hypothyroidism) is associated with high homocysteine levels. Thyroid hormones play a role in the regulation of homocysteine metabolism. Therefore, homocysteine is hypothesized to be high in cases of subclinical hypothyroidism.

Quit Smoking

Smoking has been linked to elevated homocysteine levels. The exact mechanisms are not fully understood, but the harmful effects of smoking on blood vessels and overall cardiovascular health may play a role.

Sorry, Guys! — Why Old Males Are More Prone for High Homocysteine

Homocysteine levels tend to increase with age, and men generally have higher levels than premenopausal women. Postmenopausal women, however, may experience an increase in homocysteine levels.

Know Your (Alcohol) Limit

Excessive alcohol intake can interfere with your body's ability to absorb and utilize certain B vitamins, contributing to elevated homocysteine levels.

Vitamin B Deficiencies

Inadequate absorption of B vitamins (B6, B9, B12) can impede the proper conversion of homocysteine, leading to its accumulation in the bloodstream.

Are You Stressed?

Prolonged stress and certain chronic diseases can impact your homocysteine levels through various mechanisms, including hormonal changes and increased oxidative stress.

It's important to note that individual responses to these factors can vary, and a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental influences can be unique for every person.

How Can I Lower My Homocysteine Levels?

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The good news is that you can achieve a balance in homocysteine levels through a combination of dietary adjustments, supplementation with B vitamins, and certain lifestyle modifications.

We have summarized some of the top strategies to lower your homocysteine levels:

  1. Increase Your Intake of B Vitamins

With homocysteine, it comes down to B vitamins. Ensuring an adequate intake of those—particularly B6, B9 (folate), and B12—is crucial for the proper conversion of homocysteine. Foods rich in these vitamins include leafy green vegetables, legumes, fortified cereals, and lean meats. Consider incorporating a diverse range of these foods into your diet to support an optimal homocysteine metabolism. [1]

  1. Embrace Folate-Rich Foods

Folate, which is a type of B vitamin, has a role in how your body processes homocysteine. Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, as well as citrus fruits and beans, are great sources of folate. Adding these foods to your diet or taking folic acid supplements can help maintain a sufficient nutrient intake and support the regulation of homocysteine levels. [1] [7]

  1. Foods High in Antioxidants

Antioxidants have a good reputation, and rightfully so. Foods high in antioxidants, like fruits and nuts, contribute to overall cardiovascular health. [7]

  1. White Meat Instead of Red Meat

If you tend to eat a lot of red meat and have high homocysteine levels, opt for lean protein sources, such as poultry, fish, legumes, and plant-based proteins. This helps you reduce the intake of methionine from high-homocysteine foods like red meat and supports your homocysteine balance. [7]

  1. Emphasize Whole Foods Over Processed Foods

Prioritize whole, unprocessed foods in your diet to ensure a balance of essential nutrients. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts contribute to a nutrient-rich diet that supports various aspects of health, including homocysteine metabolism. [7]

  1. Monitor Your Portion Sizes

Although certain foods can increase tHct levels, it's not necessary to completely avoid them forever. The key is moderation. By keeping an eye on portion sizes and including a variety of foods in your diet, you can effectively manage your homocysteine levels without completely cutting out specific food sources.

Supplements to Lower Homocysteine Levels

Supplements play a crucial role in the management of homocysteine levels, especially when dietary intake alone may be insufficient to provide you with enough B vitamins and folate. Key supplements targeted at lowering homocysteine levels include vitamin supplements such as B vitamins, specifically vitamins B6, B9 (folate), and B12. [1] [7]

These vitamins are essential for the conversion of homocysteine into methionine and cysteine, contributing to your body's ability to maintain optimal homocysteine levels. Folate is particularly important, and supplementation with folic acid or methylfolate has been shown to reduce homocysteine levels effectively. Vitamin B12 is also vital, as deficiencies can impede the proper metabolism of homocysteine. [1] [2]

Moreover, vitamin B6 plays a role in the transsulfuration pathway by aiding in the transformation of homocysteine into cysteine. Taking a combination of B vitamins as a supplement, commonly known as B vitamins, offers a collaborative method for managing your homocysteine levels effectively. Additionally, betaine, which is naturally found in foods and can also be taken as a supplement, has demonstrated its ability to facilitate the metabolism of homocysteine by acting as a methyl donor.

As with any supplementation, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional to determine your individual needs, as excessive intake of certain vitamins can have adverse effects.

How You Can Keep Track of Your Homocysteine Levels With CARE

Embarking on a journey toward optimal health is a proactive choice, and understanding the nuances of your body's internal processes is a crucial step in this endeavour.

Imagine your bloodstream as a flowing river and homocysteine as a marker navigating its course. Through your membership with CARE and the in-depth blood test during your regular health checkups, you gain the power to gauge the health of this river, with elevated homocysteine levels serving as a potential signal of turbulence ahead. Homocysteine is indeed what we call a biomarker.

On your blood analysis, your homocysteine levels will show up as plasma total homocysteine (tHcy), which gives us insight into whether you have low levels or high plasma homocysteine concentrations in your blood.

This insight is not just a number; it's a window into your cardiovascular well-being and future. Regularly monitoring your homocysteine levels is like having a compass for your health, enabling you to navigate towards preventive measures and make informed choices that can positively influence the course of your health for the years to come.

So, let's embark on this journey together, armed with knowledge and a commitment to a healthier, happier you.

List of References

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!