Homocysteine, B Vitamins, and Heart Disease

Jim Fixx ran every day and was in great shape. He dropped dead of a heart attack at age 49.

How is that possible?

Well, Jim Fixx’s dad died of a heart attack at age 48. We all know that genetics plays a large role in health. Still, genes are not destiny. The more we understand about the way the body works, the better we will be able to nourish it.

But still the question nags us, could the running itself have contributed to his death?

Exercise and Heart Health

As Professor Melinda M. Manore of Oregon State University's Department of Nutrition and Exercise Sciences says: "We all need to meet the minimum requirements for good health and maintenance of body weight -- about 1 hr per day of moderate physical activity. More is good, but of course there is a point when you can overdo exercise and the body doesn't have enough time to recover."

We know that exercise lowers heart rate, lowers resting blood pressure, and lowers the amount of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the bloodstream while raising the good cholesterol (HDL). Proven: exercise is good for all of us.

But exercise, especially intense exercise of long duration, breaks down the muscles and increases the body’s need for energy, stressing the body. How can we best exercise and eat so that we stay as healthy as possible? What does our body need to work as efficiently as possible?

Homocysteine and Exercise

As we exercise, or even just move around, our liver creates creatine to help the muscles contract. A by-product of making creatine is homocysteine - which is not a good thing to have in your body ...You need to rid your body of homocysteine for optimal health.

Homocysteine Effects

Why get rid of homocysteine? High levels of homocysteine in the bloodstream are now known to increase coronary vascular disease. The homocysteine interferes with the nitrous oxide needed to relax and dilate the artery walls. Wide, dilated arteries are better at carrying the oxygen we need.

Homocysteine may further contribute to arteriosclerosis by causing the blood platelets to clump and stick to the artery walls, narrowing them.

Eliminating Homocysteine

There are several ways the body gets rid of this homocysteine.

One is by recycling it back into methionine, where it came from. This works well if we have plenty of folate and vitamin B-12 to help with the recycling.

Secondly, the homocysteine can be made into cysteine with the help of vitamin B-6.

Another way to reduce the production of homocysteine is to take creatine supplements. That way, less creatine has to be produced in the body. If there is less creatine produced, there will be less homocysteine produced with it.

There has been a plethora of research on exercise. Professor Manore, of Oregon State University in Corvallis, has written many papers on nutrition and exercise; of special interest is how nutrition affects athletic performance. She has co-authored several books, among them The Science of Nutrition, Nutrition: An Applied Approach (2nd edition), Nutrition for Life, and Sport Nutrition for Health and Performance.

So what does exercise do? Does it increase homocysteine, or decrease it? This is the question that Professor Manore set out to answer with one of her doctoral students, Lanae Joubert.

Homocysteine and Exercise Research Results

Professor Manore and Dr. Joubert studied thirty eight males and thirty eight females between the ages of 21 and 31. They evaluated vitamin B intake by studying their food records, and evaluated physical activity level using their physical activity records.

The results of their research will be published November 2008 in Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise. What they found was that the more folate in the bloodstream, the less homocysteine. Further, if exercise was more that 758 minutes per week and intense, the homocysteine level in the blood increased.

B Vitamins Important

As Professor Manore says: "All the B-vitamins are important for energy production, so they are very important for active individuals. That being said, active individuals do not necessarily eat any better than their sedentary counterparts."

What To Do

Even those of us who aren't extremely active individuals can benefit from this research. Since homocysteine is as bad for us as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, it makes sense to take a B-vitamin supplement to make sure that we have enough B vitamins in our system.

Even more so if we exercise hard, it is important to have B vitamins in the diet, and perhaps supplement with B vitamins and creatine.

For those of us over 40, we produce less stomach acid than these young athletes. Stomach acid is needed to release B-12 from the foods we eat. So it is even more important for older athletes at any level to supplement their diets with B vitamins to ensure B-12 is released from the foods we eat.

Thanks to Jessica Voigts of http://www.wanderingeducators.com/ for editorial help.