Homocysteine is an amino acid in the blood that is broken down (metabolized) by folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. Low amounts of these vitamins in the body may be related to elevated homocysteine levels, as well as kidney disease, smoking, and certain genetic conditions. High levels of homocysteine, in turn, are associated with an increased risk of circulatory diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and peripheral vascular disease. Homocysteine seems to raise heart disease risk by promoting atherosclerosis and the formation of blood clots.
The new study pooled data from 11 different trials involving 702 people that looked at the connection between omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil and homocysteine levels. The amount of omega-3 oil used in the studies ranged from 0.2 to 9 grams per day and the studies lasted from 6 to 48 weeks. The people were between 30 and 70 years old and most of them had diabetes or heart disease.
Compared with placebo, omega-3 fatty acids significantly reduced homocysteine levels. While the authors of the study found these results encouraging, they offered a word of caution about interpreting their significance: “These analyses are based on different populations, and genetic and environmental differences between these populations may affect the findings,” said lead author, Tao Huang of Zhejiang University, China.
The American Heart Association says that there is not enough evidence yet to support treating high blood levels of homocysteine for heart disease prevention, but many practitioners still recommend keeping levels in check with diet and lifestyle changes.
To help keep your ticker in top shape, try these tips.
(J Nutr 2011;doi:10.1016/j.nutr.2010.12.011)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation’s premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.