A healthy heart means keeping one particular amino acid in check: homocysteine. When it’s in high levels, your risk of all illnesses and situations caused by blood clots and impeded blood flow is raised considerably. An elevated homocysteine level appears to be a significant risk factor for heart disease. Homocysteine is a metabolic end product of methionine breakdown, generally during the process of digesting meat.

Homocysteine irritates your blood vessels and can create an atmosphere where a blood clot and blocked artery is far more possible. High levels of the amino acid also pose a risk similar to free radicals, in that they can inflict oxidative damage to LDL cholesterol in your body, which is very damaging to the arteries. This is a kind of toxic damage that results in atherosclerosis. More than 40% of those with high homocysteine levels endure a heart attack and more than 20% get heart disease.

The best way to protect yourself against high levels of homocysteine is to make sure you have lots of B’s flowing in your blood, particularly folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6. Together, they are linked to a reduced risk of all heart ailments caused by homocysteine. The most promising vitamin is folic acid (or folate). Experts believe that adjusting the diet alone goes a long way toward lowering homocysteine levels.

Other than the general advice of eating more fruits and vegetables, try to include more of these specific foods into your weekly diet: dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus,carrots, avocados, green peas, baked beans, long-grain rice, peanuts, oranges, tomato juice, chickpeas and legumes. These are all known to be high in folate. There are vitamin supplements you can take as well.

~~Lois Dickey,  Vitamin Department Manager