How to Use Nutrition to Fight Heart Disease

by Jackie Wicks

Get Your B Vitamins and Fight Homocysteine

Most people haven’t heard of homocysteine, but it’s implicated in a startling number of diseases, from dementia and Alzheimer’s to heart disease. Homocysteine is a naturally formed, toxic substance which our body normally metabolizes rapidly, preventing blood levels from rising. The metabolizing process requires three B vitamins: vitamin B6, folate (B9), and vitamin B12. Other substances, like taurine and choline, can also help lower homocysteine levels, but the brunt of the work is done by B6, B9, and B12.

Outright deficiencies of these vitamins are rare, particularly since we fortify most foods with vitamin B6 and folate today. However, we still obtain much greater amounts from a diet rich in (you guessed it!) whole foods, and can lower our homocysteine levels to a greater extent by eating a more whole food-based diet.

Vitamin B6 is found in large amounts in fish and poultry, both of which are also high in the very heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats. You can also get significant amounts from potatoes, spinach, and sunflower seeds. Beans and legumes are the best source of folate, but you can also get plenty from vegetables, particularly leafy greens.

Vitamin B12 is the only vitamin which can only be obtained from animal products (or supplements). We only need small amounts of vitamin B12 (micrograms), but as we age, we commonly lose the ability to absorb B12 well. In fact, B12 deficiencies are some of the most common nutrient deficiencies seen in the elderly, and the resultant increase in homocysteine levels could help explain why dementia and Alzheimer’s become increasing common with age. Thankfully, we can bypass the decreased intestinal absorption with sublingual liquid B12, so if you are at risk of poor absorption, a liquid B12 supplement will ensure your levels remain optimal.

With the exception of B12 in the elderly, these vitamins are best gotten from the diet, not supplements. Supplements may lower homocysteine levels, but the relationship between homocysteine and CVD is not strong enough that simply lowering homocysteine will significantly lower risk. If you increase your legume and vegetable intake, you’ll not only lower homocysteine, but reap all the other benefits of a diet high in veggies and beans.

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