An amino acid is a complex molecule that helps your body build proteins. There are nine essential amino acids, and though homocysteine isn’t one of them, it is necessary for some B vitamins to work well. These vitamins, including vitamin B12, break down homocysteine to create other nutrients. If you’ve discovered that your levels of homocysteine are high, it may mean that you are deficient in B12 and other vitamins. High levels of homocysteine also put you at risk of serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease. Here are some causes and symptoms of high homocysteine levels, or hyperhomocysteinemia.
Depleted Thyroid Hormone
Your thyroid, a gland found in your neck, regulates your metabolism. It is your pituitary gland, which is found in your head, that secretes a hormone that tells your thyroid to secrete the thyroid hormone. However, an underactive thyroid might not get the signal to secrete hormones, which leads to secondary hypothyroidism. Primary hypothyroidism happens when the pituitary gland tells the thyroid to release more of its hormone, but the thyroid gland is unable to. Signs of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain even with diet and exercise
- Feeling cold all the time
- Weak, achy joints and muscles
- Dry, itchy skin
- Hair loss
Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys do not filter waste products from your blood the way they should. Kidneys also help regulate your blood pressure and the levels of potassium and salt in your body. They make hormones and also help your body produce red blood cells.
Kidney disease can be chronic or acute. Chronic kidney disease, which progresses over time, is almost always caused by high blood pressure. Acute kidney disease can be caused by untreated urinary tract infections, inflammation of tiny filters in the kidney called glomeruli, or kidney stones. Both chronic and acute kidney disease can raise levels of homocysteine.
Several types of medications can also raise homocysteine levels. Ironically, some of these drugs help lower blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage the kidneys, causing hyperhomocysteinemia. Other medications stop the body from absorbing B vitamins such as folate. Even over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin or antacids can rob your body of vitamin B and put you at risk of elevated homocysteine.
Psoriasis is a disease that causes your skin to be itchy or dry and lays down silvery plaques or scales over discolored patches of skin. Some psoriasis sufferers find that their joints swell up and hurt or their skin is so dry that it cracks and bleeds. Though many people believe that psoriasis is just a disease of the skin, it’s also associated with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes as well as hyperhomocysteinemia.
Sometimes genetics play a role in high levels of homocysteine. Some people are born with a genetic MTHFR mutation that impacts the way their body metabolizes nutrients. Scientists believe that as many as 40 percent of people have this mutation. Common MTHFR symptoms include not just elevated homocysteine but conditions as various as autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune diseases, and schizophrenia.
Symptoms of High Homocysteine Levels
Interestingly, hyperhomocysteinemia rarely causes symptoms in adults. However, symptoms that are caused by vitamin deficiencies, especially deficiencies of the B vitamins, might lead your physician to suspect that your homocysteine levels are too high.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
The symptoms of this type of vitamin deficiency include:
- Pins and needles in the extremities
- Sores in the mouth
The symptoms of folate deficiency also include a swollen tongue. If the person is a child, they don’t grow the way they should.
The good news is that treatments exist to lower your level of homocysteine if it’s too high. Not only that, treatment can involve something as simple and inexpensive as adding green leafy vegetables and beans to your diet and taking vitamin B supplements. Treating any underlying conditions that cause hyperhomocysteinemia will also help return the levels of this amino acid to normal.