Homocysteine and Our Brains
Homocysteine is a common amino acid found in our blood, and a homologue to cysteine. First discovered in 1932 by Butz and Vigneaud, and eventually identified for its role in promoting arteriosclerosis in 1969 (McCully, 2004). New studies in 2016 and 2017 are now linking high levels of homocysteine to degenerative brain disorders, and other illnesses ( (Refsum & Smith, 2017).
As we age, our ability to enzymatically metabolize and absorb folic acid is compromised, which leads to a surge in homocysteine levels. “Even fetuses need protection,” (Faloon, William, 2017). Research findings of Dutch children ages 6 to 8 years old using measures of intelligence including MRI brain scans indicate the children of mothers with insufficient folate, performed poorly on visual spatial scores and language (Ars CL, 2016).
Optimum and high levels of homocysteine
In the 1990s, researchers found positive evidence that the optimum level of homocysteine was below 8 µmol/l. Additional researchers have shown that levels above 10 µmol/l are associated with increased heart attack risk. Nevertheless, another study indicated that homocysteine levels above 9 µmol/l doubled the prevalence of dementia with functional and cognitive impairment (Bonetti, Brombo, & Magon, 2015).
Homocysteine and Brain Aging
Per the CDC the number of centenarians in the United States has now increased by 43.6% since the year 2000 (National Institute on Aging, 2017). In the United States alone over 5 million Americans have vascular dementia, Alzheimer's disease and stages of cerebrovascular dysfunction. The number of people with this disease will continue to increase significantly due to current population trends. Researchers concluded that as the United States population is aging so will incidences of Alzheimer's patients because Alzheimer’s increases with age (Xu, 2017).
Additional Research Findings
Discoveries of homocysteine blood levels in other populations confirm that centenarians are not the only population affected by low levels of homocysteine, but also postmenopausal women, children with cognitive deficiencies, men with erectile dysfunction, and even cardiac-stenting patients all demonstrate elevated levels of homocysteine. Findings also indicate that detoxification of homocysteine is possible with the use of folic acid and vitamin B12. To decrease homocysteine levels patients can also use the 5-MTHF form of folate which requires no enzymatic conversion and vitamin B 12 (Faloon, William, 2017).
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Ars CL, N. I. (2016). Prenatal Folat, homocysteine and vitamin B12 levels and child brain volumes, cognitive development and psychological functioning: the Generation R Study. Br J Nutr, 1-9.
Bonetti, F., Brombo, G., & Magon, S. e. (2015). Cognitive Status According to Homocysteine and B-Group Vitamins in Elderly Adults. Journal of American Geriatric Society, 1158-63.
Faloon, William. (2017). Homocysteine and Brain Aging. Fort Lauderdale: Life Extension.
McCully, K. (2004). Homocysteine, vitamins, and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Mil Med, 169(4):325-9.
National Institute on Aging. (2017, 12 July). Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center. Retrieved from National Institute on Aging: https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers
Refsum, H., & Smith, A. D. (2017, July 11). Annual Reviews. Retrieved from Annual Review of Nutrition: https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-nutr-071715-050947
Xu, J. (2017, July 12). Mortality Among Centenarians in the United States, 2000─2014. Retrieved from CDC.gov: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db233.pdf