Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Most amino acids are friendly to your body, but homocysteine is a potentially hostile amino acid released when you digest protein foods. Researchers have conducted about a dozen important homocysteine studies in recent years, and most of the studies have demonstrated a clear link between high homocysteine levels (called hyperhomocysteinemia) and an increased risk of heart attack. The reasons for this connection are still a mystery. The current theory is that homocysteine may chew up cells in the lining of your blood vessels, trigger blood clots, or produce debris that blocks the arteries.
The American Heart Association (AHA) hasn’t yet labeled hyperhomocysteinemia a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But the AHA does recommend that people who have at least one other known risk factor for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, or a family history of heart disease, attempt to lower their homocysteine level.
How do you lower homocysteine? No problem. The good news is that consuming adequate amounts of the B vitamins — folic acid (also known as folacin or folates), vitamin B6 (also known as pyridoxal, pyridoxine, and pyridoxamine), and vitamin B12 — efficiently lowers the amount of homocysteine in your blood.
If you’re at high risk, check with your doctor to see how you can include foods high in B vitamins in your diet. Table 2-1 lists the homocysteine fighters and some of the foods you can find them in. It hasn’t been shown, however, that lowering homocysteine levels in the blood reduces the incidence of heart disease.