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What Factors Affect Homocysteine Levels?

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  • Written By: A. Pasbjerg
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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Homocysteine levels in the body can be affected by many different factors, which can be very important, as increased levels are known to be associated with an increased risk of blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. Certain genetic disorders can cause problems with the breakdown of homocysteine, causing levels to rise. People who do not get enough of some B vitamins may also have elevated levels. Several medical conditions including thyroid and kidney diseases can impact how much of the amino acid one has, as can some types of medication. In women, age is often a factor, primarily because changing hormone levels can cause changes in homocysteine levels.

People with genetic disorders that cause the mediator molecules, which help break down homocysteine, to malfunction or be missing generally have elevated levels. Homocystinuria, a serious condition typically diagnosed in childhood where the mediator molecules are not present, causes myriad issues related to the extremely high homocysteine levels in the blood. A milder condition is hyperhomocysteinemia, where the mediator molecules are there but do not work at optimal levels.

B vitamins also play a major role in a person's homocysteine levels. Folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 are all critical for the breakdown of homocysteine, and lack of them causes levels to rise. Those who do not get enough of these vitamins in their diets may need to take a supplement or eat more foods that contain them to get homocysteine levels back to normal.

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Some medical issues may lead to increased homocysteine levels. Decreased thyroid hormone production can cause the problem, as can kidney disease. The skin disorder psoriasis may also be to blame.

Medications can also cause fluctuations in the homocysteine levels in a person's body. Taking birth control pills may help lower levels, as they increase estrogen levels, which appears to influence homocysteine. Patients taking drugs for epilepsy may have greater amounts of homocysteine. Another drug that can cause levels to rise is methotrexate.

Women may experience a shift in homocysteine levels over the course of their lives due to changes in estrogen levels. Pregnant women often find that their levels go down, as they have more estrogen than usual. Older women who have gone through menopause, when estrogen levels naturally decrease, usually see their homocysteine go up. Taking estrogen supplements may help bring them down.

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