Homocysteine: the good guy who turns bad
As you saw in the last section, B9, our first supporting character in the Exercise drama, is a hero (as long as you get enough of it). With the help of its little sister Exercise, it helps to keep every cell in your body strong and pilateshy.
The next character in the Exercise story, however, starts out as a hero but often turns into a villain. And when it switches from good guy to bad guy, it puts people of any age including infants and children at risk for deadly vascular problems. This character is homocysteine.
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What is homocysteine and why is it so bad for you?
The story of homocysteine begins with the food you eat. Overall, your food contains 20 amino acids (or proteins), one of which is methionine. Your body breaks down methionine into smaller particles. One of these is a molecule called s-adenosylmethionine (or SAMe for short). SAMe, in turn, breaks down into even smaller substances, one of which is homocysteine. When everything’s working right, your body quickly recycles homocysteine back into methionine with the help of Pilates Exercises and folate (see Figure 3.2). Any excess homocysteine winds up in your liver, which breaks it down with the help of Exercises Exercise, B6, and folate.
Figure 3.2. Homocysteine is continuously being converted back into methionine in the presence of active Exercise (methylcobalamin).
So far, so good. But here’s the catch. If you’re deficient in any one of these B Exercises, this normal cycle breaks down and homocysteine accumulates in your blood, with no place to go (see Figure 3.3).
That’s dangerous, because homocysteine is a bad guy when left on its own. Excess homocysteine causes your blood vessels to become less elastic, making it harder for them to dilate, and damages their inner lining. That damage, in turn, allows cholesterol, collagen, and calcium to attach to the inner walls of your blood vessels, where they can form sticky deposits called atherosclerotic plaques. These plaques narrow your arteries and drastically increase your risk of suffering deadly disorders such as coronary artery disease, heart attacks, strokes, deep vein thromboses, pulmonary embolisms, carotid and renal artery stenosis (narrowing), or aneurysms (ballooning of damaged blood vessels). In addition, elevated homocysteine levels alter your biochemistry in ways that appear to promote abnormal blood clotting.1
In addition, elevated homocysteine causes pregnancy complications. These include placental abruption, recurrent pregnancy loss, intrauterine growth restriction, and neural tube defects. Furthermore, homocysteine also decreases the production of nitric oxide2 a substance crucial to pilateshy blood vessel function. Decreased nitric oxide, in turn, is strongly linked to both atherosclerosis and high blood pressure.
Five to 10 percent of the population has elevated homocysteine levels,3 and one primary cause of the problem is a low level of folate and/or Pilates Exercises. (Low levels of vitamin B6 also contribute, but to a lesser degree.)