Can't lose weight? Check your homocysteine...
A survey in 2021 indicated that 45% of people globally are trying to lose weight. That’s a
lot of people actively trying to lose weight and not succeeding… While research continues to try to find the magic bullet for weight loss resistance (good luck), we do have research that points to multiple underlying issues that prevent us from losing those unwanted extra pounds.
One of those issues could be your genetic make-up. About 50% if us are unable to efficiently remove
the toxins that we find in our modern world, which could lead to weight gain as toxins get stored in tissue. The good news is we have ways to evaluate whether this toxin removal pathway is impaired. One of those ways is looking at the level of homocysteine in your blood. Unfortunately, most doctors don’t include this biomarker in their panels, but we do and here’s why.
Research has established a connection between elevated homocysteine and:
Weight gain/weight loss resistance/accumulating fat around the abdominal area
Cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke
Neurological/Psychological (Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Alzheimer, Autism, ADHD)
Hormonal (PCOS, PMS)
(Wow that’s a lot of issues for your doctor to not be checking this marker…).
Homocysteine itself can generate oxidative stress when it occurs in high levels of your blood. It essentially irritates the inner lining of the arteries and veins, and over time makes them rough instead of smooth. Your body tries to offset this roughness by building up cholesterol, which ultimately causes arterial wall injury.
What is this homocysteine I keep talking about?
Homocysteine is an amino acid. Amino acids are the breakdown products from the protein you eat. For instance, the egg you ate at breakfast is broken down into absorbable pieces of amino acids through your digestive process. Your body needs 20 different kinds of amino acids to function, 9 of these are not made by the body and must be consumed in food (these are your essential amino acids and the building blocks of a healthy body).
Homocysteine is a breakdown product of methionine (one of the 9 essential amino acids). These two amino acids are part of a bigger methylation pathway that leads to producing glutathione (one of the most powerful antioxidants our bodies make!), OR leads to compounds used in detoxification, repair of DNA/RNA, gene regulation, neurotransmitter production, hormone regulation, energy production, cell membrane repair, fat metabolism, and immune function. Needless to say, we want this methylation pathway to work!!
In a nutshell, the methylation cycle is like moving a football (the methyl group) around the circle. First, the MTHFR enzyme puts a methyl group on folate so that homocysteine can change to methionine. Methionine is now holding the methyl group and gives it to SAMe to be used in other places in the body. Since methionine is now missing the methyl group it turns back into homocysteine. Then, when you have plenty of glutathione made, homocysteine gets the methyl group back from MTHFR and is turned back into methionine. Simply moving methyl groups around = methylation. This methylation is occurring in the cells of your body right now at a billion times a second! (at least we hope it is…)
So, this methyl cycle continues, supplying methyl groups to important body processes or making homocysteine. Around and around it goes… unless it comes to a screeching halt when you don’t have enough folate (B9), MTHFR, or B12. The cycle doesn’t move without the help of another B vitamin, methylcobalamin (B12). If you are deficient in any one of these key ingredients, then homocysteine can build up instead of being turned into methionine. This is one of reasons for having elevated homocysteine levels on blood test results.
Monitoring homocysteine in your blood.
As you can see, it gets complicated and while looking at how much homocysteine is in your blood doesn’t provide us with a clear black and white answer about your methylation process, it does give us some clues into where we can look for underlying imbalances.
Homocysteine can become elevated by at least three routes:
Lack of B Vitamins (Folic Acid (B9), B6 and B12) - either from not absorbing them because your digestion is impaired, or you are not eating foods that contain them.
Blood sugar dysregulation - high insulin levels can interfere with metabolic enzymes that clear homocysteine.
Underlying genetic variants - for instance if you have the MTHFR gene variant, it’s likely that you are NOT able to produce the enzyme that helps put the methyl group on folate.
Want to feel your best so you can chase those dreams?
Check your homocysteine levels and consider these things if it is elevated:
Support your digestion. The first step in making sure you have enough vitamin B’s available for the methylation cycle is to make sure you are breaking down your protein into the amino acids that your body can recognize and use. This starts by optimizing digestion - chewing your food, making sure you have enough stomach acid to break down protein, and optimizing your bile flow for fat digestion. Stress is the number one cause, we see, for stomach acid not being powerful enough to breakdown protein.
Eat foods high in B vitamins. Some good choices of foods that contain high amounts of B vitamins include:
meats and seafood
nuts and seeds (sunflower seeds)
some fruits, such as bananas and avocados
some vegetables, including asparagus, spinach, potatoes, and squash
dark leafy greens
Foods high in Folate/Folic Acid (B9)
mung, lima, navy, garbanzo, kidney beans
spinach, kale, other various greens
Foods high in B12 (absorbable B12 is only present in animal protein):
liver and kidney - (chicken liver contains folate (B9), B2, B3, and B6!)
fish and shellfish
Supplement with a methylated B Vitamin. People with the MTHFR genetic variation will have difficulty converting folic acid to its usable form (putting that methyl group on it), causing a buildup of folic acid in your system. Check any B vitamins you are taking and switch them to a form of folate that has already been methylated - methyl-folate.
Balance your blood sugar. Eating foods that are ultra-processed, high in sugar or starchy carbs can wreak havoc on the system trying to keep your blood glucose levels balanced. Over time this can cause blood sugar dysregulation which can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. Focus on eating whole foods (not from a package) and high-quality meats (pasture raised).