<P class=textlink><B><SPAN class=text>Homocysteine is important key for assessing risk of disease</SPAN></B>
<P class=textlink><B><SPAN class=text>By Hal Walter</SPAN></B>
<P class=text>For years, the standard test to assess risk of disease has been to measure cholesterol in the blood. In the near future, however, measuring blood levels of homocysteine may also become standard procedure.
<P class=text>In fact, Dr. Phil Maffetone says that high homocysteine is now considered a more serious risk factor for heart disease than high total cholesterol, and suggests this blood test be performed regularly.
<P class=text>In addition to assessing risk of heart disease and other vascular problems, homocysteine levels may also give clues to other serious illnesses, including Alzheimer's, other dementias and cancer. Recently, high homocysteine, or more specifically low folate levels that accompany it, has also been associated with depression and other psychological disturbances, particularly in patients who do not respond to prescription anti-depressant drugs.
<P class=text>What exactly is homocysteine? It's an amino acid that's associated with occlusion of and damage to arteries. It's also toxic to brain cells. High levels of this substance in the blood indicate inadequate levels of folic acid, and possible needs for vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.
<P class=text>Testing for homocysteine is a simple procedure that can be carried out along with regular blood tests for cholesterol. A result indicating high homocysteine levels suggests a need for increasing intake of folic acid, B6 and B12, preferably though the diet.
<P class=text>Consuming foods such as spinach, kale, broccoli, romaine lettuce, beets, Brussels sprouts, beans, some fruits such as citrus and cantaloupe, egg yolks, and beef or chicken liver may help improve folate levels. Fish, meat and eggs contain B12. Eggs, meats, and whole grains contain B6.
<P class=text>Dr. Maffetone says some people have much higher requirements for folic acid, which is difficult to assess except through a homocysteine test. Poor intake is usually the main issue, although excess estrogen from birth-control pills, hormone replacement therapy or dietary intake can increase the need for B6, and possibly folic acid and B12.
<SPAN class=text>For those who cannot achieve adequate folate levels through the diet, consultation with a health-care professional about supplementation may be appropriate. Doctors may recommend the newer, natural forms of folate supplements for patients with elevated homocysteine, intestinal problems or women of child-bearing age in order to restore organ reserve, which could possibly become depleted after years of inadequate folate intake.</SPAN>