B Vitamins: Good For Your Heart

Words: Dr Richard FIRSHEIN

It is reported that more than 15 million people die of heart disease annually. This will continue to ‘ring out’ its death toll until we accept the whole truth — that high cholesterol alone is not the ‘root’ cause. In fact, many people die from heart attacks and coronary artery disease [CAD] with normal, or low cholesterol levels.

A special derivative of an amino acid called homocysteine lurks in the shadows. It lets cholesterol take the blame as it stealthily sabotages our arteries. Homocysteine is derived from an amino acid called methionine. Methionine is found in several foods, like garlic, onions, legumes, fish, eggs and meat. A process called transulphuration turns methionine into homocysteine.

Physicians who practice natural therapies are not the only ones taking note of homocysteine’s dangers. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine confirms that increased plasma levels of homocysteine confer an independent risk of vascular disease. This means that even if you are a healthy person with normal cholesterol levels, no family history of illness, and good eating habits, high levels of homocysteine in your body can predispose you to heart disease. This predisposition to heart risk is powerfully increased if you smoke, or have high blood pressure [hypertension].

Dr Kilmer McCully, MD, a pathologist at Harvard Medical School, US, made a series of intriguing observations about homocysteine and our hearts. As explained earlier, homocysteine is created from — and, is related to — several quite innocuous compounds, like the amino acid methionine. It can be changed in two directions: it can use vitamin B6 [pyridoxine] to change into two other important amino acids, cysteine and taurine, or it can use vitamin B12 [cobalamin] and folic acid to return back to its methionine form. In a normal, healthy body, homocysteine is just a brief intermediate step between methionine, cysteine and taurine.

Well, in as many as one in four victims of heart disease, that step is not so brief. If our levels of vitamin B6, B12, or folic acid, are low, then homocysteine cannot be transformed back into these ‘safe substances;’ it accumulates to dangerous amounts. Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to elevated homocysteine levels and would need extra B-vitamins.

Homocysteine causes damage to the lining of the arteries and any low-density lipoprotein [LDL] cholesterol that might be found there. This is why LDL cholesterol — or, ‘bad’ cholesterol — is so harmful. Not because it is the ‘root’ cause of coronary artery disease [CAD], but because when oxidised it causes free radical damage and makes arterial disease worse. Think of homocysteine as the creator of potholes in the walls of the arteries and when fat, or cholesterol, surrounds the potholes they clumsily plug up the hole, further aggravating the damage.

The current mainstream treatment for heart disease includes coronary bypass surgery, literally a chest splitting procedure; angioplasty, which inflates your vulnerable arteries, like balloons to deflect cholesterol plaques; and, numerous potent medications with various side-effects. Keeping homocysteine low, however, is often a matter of one simple, natural tool: the dietary supplement. High homocysteine levels have been linked to deficiencies of three crucial vitamins: B6, B12 and folic acid.

As Dr McCully observed, way back in the 1960s, homocysteine levels increase as a direct result of deficiencies of the three vitamins and that its levels decrease when they are consumed. The inference is obvious: with just a little help from a basic vitamin B capsule, the threat of high homocysteine levels could be wiped out and the frequency of heart disease reduced. Folic acid too is just as important to our health. We, in the US, are blessed with a wealth of nutritional knowledge and an abundance of food, yet it is shocking that so many people lack B vitamins. The credo applies to people across the globe. The answer is simple — we can bolster our diets with the right vitamin nutrients and control homocysteine.

You get the point — the simplest of cures are sometimes the best of cures.

Dr RICHARD FIRSHEIN, DO, is the Founder-Director of The Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City. He is a leading innovator and authority in the field of preventative and nutritional medicine, integrating Western and Eastern medical practices. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine and has served as professor of family medicine. An internationally recognised leader in the field of integrative medicine and healthy aging, a cancer researcher, prolific author and writer, Dr Firshein has written several ground-breaking books, including the bestselling Reversing AsthmaYour Asthma-Free ChildThe Nutraceutical Revolution and The Vitamin Prescription [For Life]. This article is ©Dr Richard Firshein.

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