Autoimmune diseases are tricky. They have no cure and doctors are not sure what causes them. They may be dormant inside your body until something occurs to wake them up, such as the build-up of toxins and chronic inflammation due to stress, poor diet, and unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Additionally, there is a relationship between high homocysteine levels and autoimmune disorders. Early detection is key to any disease treatment plan, even a disease that has no cure. Here’s why you should get your homocysteine levels checked.
What is Homocysteine?
Homocysteine is a sulfur-containing chemical in the blood that is produced when an amino acid called methionine is broken down in the body (Varga et al, 2015). Hyperhomocysteinemia, or elevated homocysteine levels, affects approximately 5 percent of the population. It may cause irritation of the blood vessels, hardening of the arteries (also called atherosclerosis), and blood clots in the veins (or venous thrombosis). Certain implications of elevated homocysteine are specifically troubling for women, possibly because approximately 75 percent of autoimmune disorders occur in women.
Along with the increased risk for autoimmune disorders, high homocysteine levels are associated with vascular and neurodegenerative diseases, birth defects, diabetes, renal disease, osteoporosis, neuropsychiatric disorders, and cancer (Brustolin 2010).
An elevated homocysteine level is typically less than 13 ?mol/L. A level between 13 and 60 ?mol/L is considered moderately elevated, and a value greater than 60 to 100 ?mol/L is severely elevated (Varga 2015).
What Causes Hyperhomocysteinemia?
Hyperhomocysteinemia may be caused by a deficiency of B vitamins and folate. People with kidney disease, low levels of thyroid hormones, psoriasis, and who take certain medications, including antiepileptic drugs and methotrexate, are known to have increased homocysteine levels.
Some individuals with high homocysteine levels have a common genetic variant (called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, abbreviated MTHFR) that impairs their ability to process folate. This defective gene leads to elevated levels of homocysteine in some people who inherit MTHFR (a gene that produces an enzyme that helps regulate homocysteine levels in the body) variants from both parents. When there is a genetic mutation in the MTHFR gene, homocysteine levels may not be regulated properly.
How Does Hyperhomocysteinemia Cause Autoimmunity?
High homocysteine levels may cause autoimmune reactions through its capability to bind and structurally modify specific proteins, then resulting in neoantigens formation potentially relevant either in the onset of specific AD and in the progression of the associated cardiovascular damage (Lazzerini et al, 2007).
Hyperhomocysteinemia causes connective tissue pathology in four major ways, possibly due to the discovery of a reaction in which homocysteine thiolactone is converted to mercaptopropionaldehyde.
During this reaction, 1) the reaction may deplete ascorbic acid that is required for collagen synthesis, 2) the mercaptoaldehyde product may interfere with collagen synthesis, 3) the mercaptoaldehyde may cause abnormal cross-linking of collagen molecules, and 4) the mercaptoaldehyde may attach to collagen molecules rendering them antigenic and triggering an autoimmune response (Toohey 2008).
How Do I Lower My Homocysteine Levels?
Homocysteine levels can be lowered naturally through proper diet. Be sure to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Stay away from processed foods and sugar, which will only contribute to chronic inflammation. Folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 are all involved in breaking down homocysteine in the blood. Good sources of folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 are green leafy vegetables, especially spinach, and lentils, chickpeas, asparagus, and most beans.
Another way to lower homocysteine levels is by supplementing with the enzyme betaine homocysteine methyltransferase (BHMT). BHMT is found almost exclusively in the liver and kidney. High intakes of betaine (6 grams or more daily) have been used successfully to treat genetic homocystinuria in humans. Betaine fed to rats given alcohol or carbon tetrachloride has been shown to boost hepatic SAM levels. Data from studies found that individuals with mild hyperhomocysteinemia who used betaine (6 grams daily) reported reductions of homocysteine in the blood of about 30 percent.
Along with proper diet and supplementation, also consider getting adequate rest and enough exercise, which reduces stress. Yoga, meditation and breathing practices also help to cope with stress.
Get Your Homocysteine Levels Checked
To have your homocysteine levels check, talk to your doctor about options. No official guidelines exist as to who should be tested.
Persons with an elevated risk of hyperhomocysteinemia are individuals with unexplained blood clots, unexplained atherosclerosis, and women with a history of miscarriage, preeclampsia, placental abruption, and women who have small babies for their age.
Once an elevated level has been found and folic acid and/or vitamin B6 and B12 therapy is initiated, homocysteine levels should be rechecked every 2 months to make sure that it has normalized.
Brustolin, S., Giugliani, R., & Félix, T. (2010). Genetics of homocysteine metabolism and associated disorders. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 1-7.
Lazzerini, P., Capecchi, P., Selvi, E., Lorenzini, S., Bisogno, S., Galeazzi, M., & Pasini, F. (2007). Hyperhomocysteinemia, inflammation and autoimmunity. Autoimmunity Reviews, 503-509.
Toohey, J. (2008). Homocysteine Toxicity in Connective Tissue: Theories, Old and New. Connective Tissue Research, 57-61.
Varga, E., Sturum, A., Misita, C., & Moll, S. (2015). Homocysteine And MTHFR Mutations: Relation To Thrombosis And Coronary Artery Disease. Circulation, E289-E293.