On a recent blood test, my plasma level of homocysteine (Hcy) was 11.9 uMol. Is that optimal minimizing disease risk and maximizing longevity? Let’s have a look at the literature.
A 2017 meta-analysis of 11 studies including 27,737 participants showed an increased risk of death from all causes (“all-cause mortality”; ACM) as circulating levels of homocysteine increase (Fan et al. 2017):
When looking at meta-analyses, it’s important to examine each of the individual studies. Here are the data for the 11 included studies:
- Kark et al. 1999: 1,788 older adults, average age 65y, followed for 9-11 years. Compared with values less than 8.5 uMol, subjects with elevated homocysteine (> 14.7) had a 2-fold higher risk of death from all causes.
- Bostom et al. 1999: 1,933older adults, verage age, 70y, median follow-up, 10y. Subjects with values > 14.3 uMol had 2-fold ACM risk, when compared with < 14.3.
- Hoogeveen et al. 2000: 811 older adults (average age, 65y), 5 yr follow-up. Non- diabetics had a 34% increased ACM risk (p=0.08), but diabetics had 2.5-fold increased ACM risk after a 5-yr follow-up.
- Vollset et al. 2001: 4,766 older adults (age range, 65-67y at study entry), median 4 yr follow-up. Compared with 5.1-8.9 uMol, values greater than 12 were significantly associated with a 2.4-4.5 increased ACM risk.
- Acevedo et al. 2003. 3,427 subjects, average age 56y, ~3yr follow-up. ACM risk lowest for < 9.4 uMol, compared with > 14.4.
- González et al. 2007: 215 older adults (average age, 75y), median 4 yr follow-up. Compared with < 8.7 uMol, values > 16.7 had 2.3-fold increased ACM risk.
- Dangour et al. 2008: 853 older adults (average age, 79y), ~7.6y follow-up. Homocysteins > 19.4 uMol associated with ~2-fold higher ACM risk, when compared with < 9.8.
- Xiu et al. 2012: 1,412 older adults (average age, ~75y), up to 10 year follow-up. 1.8-fold higher ACM risk comparing those with >14.5 uMol with < 9.3.
- Waśkiewicz et al. 2012: 7,165 middle aged adults, ~5yr follow- up. 1.8-fold increased ACM risk for subjects with homocysteine > 10.5 uMol(average age, 52y) when compared with < 8.2 (avg age, 40y).
- Wong et al. 2013: 4,248 older men, average age ~77y, ~5yr follow-up. 1.5-fold increased ACM risk for homocysteine values > 15 uMol.
- Swart et al. 2012: 1,117 older adults (average age, 75y), up to a 7yr follow-up. In 543 men, homocysteine was not associated with ACM risk. In 574 women, 1.7 to 1.9-fold higher ACM risk when comparing > 12.7 and >15.6 vs < 10.3 uMol.
Not included in their analysis:
- Petersen et al. 2016: 670 subjects, average age 65y, average follow-up 14.5y. Subjects with homocysteine values ≥ 10.8 μmol/l had a significant higher incidence of all-cause mortality:
In sum, the evidence appears consistent across these 12 studies that elevated homocysteine is associated with an increased risk of death from all causes. Based on the Fan et al. (2016) meta-analysis, lower appears better, with values < 5 uMol associated with maximally reduced ACM risk. Also based on that data, my ACM risk is ~1.5-fold increased! To reduce my homocysteine level, I’ve added 800 mcg of folic acid, bringing my already high dietary folate intake to 2000 micrograms/per day. Stay tuned to see if my homocysteine levels are reduced in a couple of weeks!
12/8/2017 update: Despite 42 days of 800 micrograms of supplemental folic acid, bringing my average daily folate intake to 2026 micrograms/day, my plasma homocysteine was essentially unchanged at 11.7 uMoL.What’s next on the list to reduce it? Trimethylglycine, also known as betaine. I’m a proponent of using diet as a first strategy, and. to increase my dietary betaine levels, I’ll eat beets and quinoa, bringing my daily betaine levels to ~500 mg/day. Let’s see how it turns out on my next blood test!
1/6/2018 Update: ~500 mg/day of betaine from beets and quinoa did absolutely nothing to my homecysteine levels. In fact, it got worse (15.3 uMoL)! Next, I’ll try higher levels of supplemental betaine, starting at a dose of 2.4 grams/day. I plan to retest by the end of the month, so stay tuned!
If you’re interested, please have a look at my book:
Bostom AG, Silbershatz H, Rosenberg IH, Selhub J, D’Agostino RB, Wolf PA, Jacques PF, Wilson PW. Nonfasting plasma total homocysteine levels and all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in elderly Framingham men and women. Arch Intern Med. 1999 May 24;159(10):1077-80.
Dangour AD, Breeze E, Clarke R, Shetty PS, Uauy R, Fletcher AE. Plasma homocysteine, but not folate or vitamin B-12, predicts mortalityin older people in the United Kingdom. J Nutr. 2008 Jun;138(6):1121-8.
Fan R, Zhang A, Zhong F. Association between Homocysteine Levels and All-cause Mortality: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. Sci Rep. 2017 Jul 6;7(1):4769.
González S, Huerta JM, Fernández S, Patterson AM, Lasheras C. Homocysteine increases the risk of mortality in elderly individuals. Br J Nutr. 2007 Jun;97(6):1138-43.
Hoogeveen EK, Kostense PJ, Jakobs C, Dekker JM, Nijpels G, Heine RJ, Bouter LM, Stehouwer CD. Hyperhomocysteinemia increases risk of death, especially in type 2 diabetes : 5-year follow-up of the Hoorn Study. Circulation. 2000 Apr 4;101(13):1506-11.
Kark JD, Selhub J, Adler B, Gofin J, Abramson JH, Friedman G, Rosenberg IH. Nonfasting plasma total homocysteine level and mortality in middle-aged and elderly men and women in Jerusalem. Ann Intern Med. 1999 Sep 7;131(5):321-30.
Petersen JF, Larsen BS, Sabbah M, Nielsen OW, Kumarathurai P, Sajadieh A. Long-term prognostic significance of homocysteine in middle-aged and elderly. Biomarkers. 2016 Sep;21(6):490-6.
Swart KM, van Schoor NM, Blom HJ, Smulders YM, Lips P. Homocysteine and the risk of nursing home admission and mortality in older persons. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012 Feb;66(2):188-95.
Waśkiewicz A, Sygnowska E, Broda G. Homocysteine concentration and the risk of death in the adult Polish population. Kardiol Pol. 2012;70(9):897-902.
Wong YY, Almeida OP, McCaul KA, Yeap BB, Hankey GJ, Flicker L. Homocysteine, frailty, and all-cause mortality in older men: the health in men study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2013 May;68(5):590-8.
Vollset SE, Refsum H, Tverdal A, Nygård O, Nordrehaug JE, Tell GS, Ueland PM. Plasma total homocysteine and cardiovascular and noncardiovascular mortality: the Hordaland Homocysteine Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Jul;74(1):130-6.