You and Your Heart
Author: Catherine Saxelby
Having diabetes increases the risk of heart disease two- to fourfold.
Diabetes is an illness in epidemic proportions in the U.S. and other Western countries. An estimated 16 million Americans have diabetes, at least one-third of whom are undiagnosed and or untreated. And 20 to 30 million more have impaired glucose tolerance or borderline diabetes.
A high level of homocysteine in the blood is now being recognized as a new, independent risk factor for heart troubles.
If the level of homocysteine in your blood is too high, the chances of blood vessel damage and atherosclerosis are also high, in much the same way that high blood levels of cholesterol can predict how likely you are to have heart disease.
For years, doctors puzzled as to why some people succumb to heart attack when they have no known risk factors–they don’t smoke, their blood fats are within safe limits, they have no family history of heart problems or high blood pressure, they are not overweight.
Now, with the discovery of homocysteine, an explanation is here. One of the clues was that people with a rare inherited disease known as homocysteinaemia (deficiency of the enzyme cystathionine synthase), which led to raised levels of homocysteine, often died early in life from heart disease.
But the good news is that a high level of homocysteine can be treated with modifications to your daily diet or by supplementation.
What is it?
Homocysteine is an amino acid produced by the body. It is part of a biochemical cycle and is converted to methionine.
For this cycle to function, folate (folic acid) and its close relatives vitamins B12 and B6 are needed to activate the pathway. If you are getting plenty of folate, B6 and B12 from your food, they “detoxify” the homocysteine, driving levels down and keeping you safe from heart troubles.
But if there is not enough folate, B12 and B6 in your diet, the homocysteine builds up in the blood and can start a slow accumulation of plaque on artery walls. There’s also evidence that it makes the blood more likely to clot.