There is a substantial body of scientific evidence that lowering elevated levels of blood cholesterol — by pharmaceutical and/or dietary means — can decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) such as hypertension, stroke and heart attack. Evidence has also been accumulating that increased levels of another blood constituent, homocysteine, may raise the risk of CVD. A report in the August issue of the journal Circulation explores the effect of dietary changes on blood levels of homocysteine.
Blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is normally made in the body, may be greatly elevated due to some genetic disorders. Individuals who have very high levels of homocysteine often have advanced cardiovascular disease at early ages. Because of this strong association between very high homocysteine levels and CVD, researchers have looked at factors that may influence the blood levels of this amino acid. In particular, three B vitamins — vitamins B-6, B-12 and folic acid — are important in maintaining normal function of enzymes that produce and break down homocysteine.
In the Circulation study, researchers led by Dr. Lawrence Appel from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution, looked at the effect of dietary changes on the levels of these vitamins and of homocysteine in the blood of 118 people. For three weeks, the subjects were fed a diet similar to the typical American diet: 37 percent of calories from fat, and 14 percent from saturated fat (the control diet). This diet included fewer servings per day of fruits, vegetables and dairy products than recommended by government nutritional guidelines. At the end of this three-week period (called the “run-in” period), participants’ homocysteine blood levels and the three B vitamins were measured.
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