Homocysteine - The best indicator of good health
Homocysteine is a protein-like substance that is found in the blood. A high level of homocysteine can increase the body's chances of falling victim to whole variety of disease and illness - it has also been linked to PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and an increase in birth defects such as spina bifida.
Conversely a low level will help cut the risk of developing certain cancers, diabetes, alzheimer's, heart attacks and strokes - and help improve the chances of successful conception. Homocysteine is essentially the best indicator of overall health, but most have never heard of it!
So, how does homocysteine affect preconception and pregnancy?
1. Damage can be caused to the placenta if homocysteine is too high - as it is a toxin. A side effect of this damage prevents sufficient supply of essential fatty acids from reaching the foetus.
2. Homocysteine is a factor involved in a process called methylation which breaks down toxins and also makes essential substances in the body. This process is especially important in the production and maintenance of new cells - hence why it is so important for preconception and pregnancy as we prepare and make new cells for our baby. It is also a vital part of making hormones such as progesterone/oestrogen/insulin, energy production, and controlling DNA synthesis.
Methylation is responsible not just for healthy reproductive function, but it also determines immune function, how quickly we age and even our mood.
Testing your homocysteine level can be done through an online provider who will send you a finger prick testing kit - have a look here. You are aiming to achieve a level of 6 or below; so if your results come back higher than this it would be wise to contact a nutritionist for further help. If you are struggling to conceive it would be wise to get your partner tested too.
What can increase my risk of high homocysteine levels?
- Oestrogen deficiency
- Lack of exercise
- Following a vegetarian or vegan diet
- High salt intake
- Having excessive amounts of red meat and fat in the diet
- High alcohol and caffeine consumption
- If you have a family history of heart disease, stroke, cancer, alzheimers, diabetes or schizophrenia
- Having less than 900mcg of Folate per day
- Increasing age
If any of the above apply, it's time to think about taking the test! The good news is that high homocysteine levels can be reduced in a matter of weeks. Following the nutritional advice in this guide will start the process - but it is essential to see a nutritionist if you have a high test result as they can prescribe the correct B vitamin, zinc and TMG supplements.