Homocysteine is an amino acid found in the blood. It is an intermediate that occurs when the body is low in certain factors that convert one much needed amino acid (methionine) to another (cysteine). Studies have shown that too much homocysteine in the blood (plasma) is related to a higher risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease and potentially many other conditions of chronic inflammation. Other evidence suggests that homocysteine may have a serious effect on atherosclerosis (hardening or narrowing of the arteries) by damaging the inner lining of arteries and promoting blood clots.
Homocysteine levels are strongly influenced by diet, as well as by genetic factors. Folate, B6 and B12 vitamins help break down homocysteine in the body and complete its conversion to cysteine. Several studies have found that higher blood levels of B12 and folate correlate to lower concentrations of homocysteine. Other recent evidence shows that low blood levels of these essential vitamins are linked to a higher risk of fatal coronary heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.