What is homocysteine?
Homocysteine is one of the 20 amino acids (molecules that the body requires to synthesize all body proteins). It is not possible to get homocysteine from the diet, so it must be made from other amino acids that can be consumed in the diet, such as methionine (found in meat, fish, and dairy products). Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B12 and folic acid are needed to help these reactions occur.
Foods containing methionine are transformed into homocysteine in the bloodstream. Homocysteine is converted in the body to cysteine, with vitamin B6 facilitating this reaction. Homocysteine can also be recycled back into methionine using vitamin B12-related enzymes.
Cysteine is an important protein in the body that has many roles. It is involved in the way proteins within cells are folded, maintain their shape, and link to each other. Cysteine is a source of sulfide and is part of the metabolism of different metals in the body including iron, zinc and copper. Cysteine also acts as an anti-oxidant.
If homocysteine cannot be converted into cysteine or returned to the methionine form, levels of homocysteine in the body increase. Elevated homocysteine levels have been associated with heart attack, stroke, blood clot formation, and perhaps the development of Alzheimer's disease.
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