HCA image for aging hearts Homocysteine is an amino acid formed in the body from another amino acid called methionine. Certain B vitamins are needed to breakdown these amino acids. The vitamins include vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate. A deficiency of any one of these vitamins, most particularly folate, can lead to an elevation in blood levels of homocysteine.

Levels of homocysteine increase with age, and elevation is more common in men and postmenopausal women. Although some studies have found and association with high homocysteine levels and heart disease, whether or not homocysteine is a risk factor for heart disease remains controversial.

Very high levels of homocysteine were first found to be a problem in the 1960s, when people with an inheritable defect of an enzyme responsible for the metabolism of homocysteine were suffering from heart attacks and strokes before the age of 30. In the 1970s, researchers began to study the effects of lifestyle factors, such as dietary folate and smoking, in people who developed elevated homocysteine levels. During the last two decades, a connection between mild to moderate elevations of homocysteine and heart disease has shown up in some, but not all studies. And organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA) do not currently identify high homocysteine levels as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

If you have not yet been tested, do not be surprised if your doctor is somewhat reluctant to measure your homocysteine level. If other risk factors for heart disease are already present, knowing that your homocysteine level is elevated may not change your treatment. However, according to the AHA, getting screened for homocysteine levels may be useful if you have a personal or family history of cardiovascular disease and do not have the common risk factors, like smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol.