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Serum Homocysteine

Also known as S. Homocysteine, Total Homocysteine
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Understanding Serum Homocysteine

What is Serum Homocysteine?

A Serum Homocysteine test determines the levels of homocysteine, a naturally occurring amino acid in your blood. Elevated homocysteine can damage the lining of arteries, encouraging blood clotting. This may raise your risk for coronary artery disease, heart attacks, blood clots, and strokes. High levels of homocysteine are also associated with low levels of vitamins B6, B12, and folate, as well as renal disease.

Homocysteine is a type of amino acid, a chemical substance the body uses to make proteins. Normally vitamins in your body, like B12, B6, and B9 (folate or folic acid) break down homocysteine and change it into other substances that your body requires. High levels of homocysteine ​​indicate that the body is deficient in vitamins B6, B9, or B12. Since these three vitamins are essential for the metabolism (breaking down) of homocysteine, increased levels of the amino acid may indicate a deficiency of these vitamins. Without treatment, elevated homocysteine ​​can increase your risk of dementia, heart disease, and stroke.

The homocysteine test is usually advised if you are at high risk for heart disease. It is one of the cardiac biomarkers that show up in the blood after your heart has been under severe stress or injury. Its presence in the blood is thus a valuable indicator that doctors or healthcare advisors can utilize for a more comprehensive assessment of cardiac risk factors and formulate preventive measures and treatments. It also helps detect deficiencies of vitamin B6, B12, and folate. In addition to that, it helps diagnose homocystinuria, a rare condition that prevents protein breakdown in newborns and infants.

The test is usually recommended if you're lacking vitamin B6, B12, or folic acid, if you have a family history of early heart disease or stroke, or if you have certain risk factors for heart disease or stroke (such as high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure). However, eating a balanced diet can help maintain the right amount of vitamins and help keep an adequate amount of homocysteine in the body.

Usually, overnight fasting (8-12 hours) is preferred for an Serum Homocysteine test. Do not eat or drink anything except water before the test. Test result ranges are approximate and may differ slightly between labs depending on the methodology and laboratory guidelines. Talk to your doctor about your specific test results. If you have high homocysteine levels, your doctor may suggest dietary changes. If you are considering taking vitamin supplements, talk to your doctor first.

What is Serum Homocysteine used for?

An Serum Homocysteine test is done:

  • To screen for heart attack and stroke, especially in people with no risk factors but with a family history of cardiovascular diseases.

  • To detect and diagnose an inherited disease called homocystinuria in newborns and infants

  • To detect deficiencies of Vitamin B6, B12, or B9 (Folic acid).

  • To identify individuals at higher risk of heart-related issues, even before they develop symptoms.

  • To monitor the effectiveness of treatments and lifestyle changes in individuals already diagnosed with a heart condition.

  • To assess overall heart function and as a part of cardiac risk markers.

What does Serum Homocysteine measure?

A Serum Homocysteine measures your blood levels of homocysteine that serves in the body as an intermediate in the metabolism of methionine and cysteine. Methionine is an essential amino acid and antioxidant that synthesizes proteins. Cysteine is a nonessential amino acid synthesized from methionine. It reduces inflammation, increases communication between immune cells, and increases liver health.

The human body generally has low levels of homocysteine. This is because our body uses vitamins B12, B6, and folic acid (also called folate or vitamin B9) to rapidly break down homocysteine ​​and convert it into other compounds and transport it to our body. However high levels can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of heart attacks, damage to arteries, and brain stroke. 

Interpreting Serum Homocysteine results


Normal homocysteine levels: 4 to 15 µmol/L

Concentrations above 15µmol/L are considered increased homocysteine level. Increased level of homocysteine in the blood is called Hyperhomocysteinemia, which is classified into:

·         Moderate hyperhomocysteinemia: 15 to 30 µmol/L

·         Intermediate hyperhomocysteinemia: 30 to 100 µmol/L

·         Severe hyperhomocysteinemia: More than 100 µmol/L

Hyperhomocysteinemia can be caused due to:

·         Deficiency of Vitamin B6, B12, or Folic acid

·   Inherited disease homocystinuria (Genetic abnormality of methionine metabolizing enzymes)

·         Chronic alcoholism

The normal level of homocysteine in the blood is usually higher in males than in females. Homocysteine levels also increase with age.

Answers to Patient Concerns & Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Serum Homocysteine

Frequently Asked Questions about Serum Homocysteine

Q. What is the Serum Homocysteine test for?

The Serum Homocysteine measures the amount of homocysteine, an amino acid, in your body. This test is often used to diagnose vitamin B6, B9, or B12 deficiency. People with elevated homocysteine ​​may have a higher risk of heart disease.

Q. What factors can affect the homocysteine test results?

Certain medications like carbamazepine, methotrexate, etc. can affect the result of homocysteine test. Smoking and alcohol intake can increase homocysteine levels.

Q. What additional tests can be prescribed by your doctor in case the homocysteine test result is not normal?

Additional tests that may be prescribed in case of abnormal homocysteine test results are the urine homocysteine test, lipid profile test, cardiac risk markers, vitamin B12 test, and folic acid test.

Q. Does homocysteine have any functions in the body?

Yes, homocysteine plays a role in the body's metabolic processes, particularly in the metabolism of methionine, an essential amino acid. However, excessive levels can be harmful.

Q. Is higher homocysteine level inherited?

Yes, increased levels of homocysteine ​​can be genetic, called homocystinuria, an inherited disorder that prevents the body from processing the essential amino acid, methionine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

Q. What is Homocystinuria?

Homocystinuria is a genetic disease where the metabolism of an essential amino acid called methionine is affected, leading to increased levels of homocysteine in the blood. Homocystinuria is caused by an inheritable genetic mutation that causes abnormalities in the enzymes required for methionine metabolism.

Q. What are the symptoms of homocystinuria in infants?

Symptoms of homocystinuria appear in infants within a few years of birth. Symptoms include dislocation of the eye lens leading to visual defects, muscular and skeletal deformities, osteoporosis, long and slender body structure (Marfan syndrome-like appearance), seizures, mental retardation, etc. Infants affected by homocystinuria are also at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and stroke.

Q. What are the symptoms of increased homocysteine levels?

Increased levels of homocysteine ​​in the blood show subtle symptoms similar to vitamin deficiency. These include fatigue, general weakness, dizziness, tingling sensation or numbness in hands and feet, sores on tongue or mouth, loss of appetite, pale complexion, decreased blood pressure, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, pain in the mouth, vision impairment, osteoporosis, cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke, increased risk of diseases, increased risk of blood clots forming inside blood vessels, etc.

Q. What are the possible complications of an elevated homocysteine?

Some of the complications of an elevated homocysteine level may include osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, venous thrombosis, heart attack, coronary artery disease, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.

Q. Is there a way to prevent high homocysteine levels?

Maintaining a balanced diet rich in vitamin B12, folic acid, and vitamin B6 can help control homocysteine ​​levels. Regular exercise, adequate hydration, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol can also contribute to healthy homocysteine ​​levels.

Q. Which foods are good for reducing homocysteine levels?

Eating a rich source of Vitamin B found in fruits and green leafy vegetables like spinach might help reduce homocysteine levels. Apart from these, many breakfast cereals, fortified grain products, lentils, asparagus, potatoes, bananas, chickpeas, lentils, etc. are also rich sources of vitamins and helpful in lowering homocysteine levels. Dairy products and meat, which are good sources of vitamin B12, are also useful in reducing homocysteine levels.
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  2. Ganguly P, Alam SF. Role of homocysteine in the development of cardiovascular disease. Nutr J. 2015 Jan 10;14:6. [Accessed 30 Oct. 2023]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4326479/ External Link
  3. Kumar A, Palfrey HA, Pathak R, Kadowitz PJ, Gettys TW, Murthy SN. The metabolism and significance of homocysteine in nutrition and health. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2017 Dec 22;14:78. [Accessed 30 Oct. 2023]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5741875/ External Link
  4. Azzini E, Ruggeri S, Polito A. Homocysteine: Its Possible Emerging Role in At-Risk Population Groups. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Feb 20;21(4):1421. [Accessed 30 Oct. 2023]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7073042/ External Link
  5. Gilfix BM. Vitamin B12 and homocysteine. CMAJ. 2005 Nov 22;173(11):1360. [Accessed 30 Oct. 2023]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1283514/ External Link
  6. Fratoni V, Brandi ML. B vitamins, homocysteine and bone health. Nutrients. 2015 Mar 30;7(4):2176-92. [Accessed 30 Oct. 2023]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425139/#:~:text=It%20is%20known%20that%20serum,%2Dcontaining%20amino%20acid%2C%20homocysteine. External Link
  7. Bhardwaj P, Sharma R, Sharma M. Homocystinuria: A rare condition presenting as stroke and megaloblastic anemia. J Pediatr Neurosci. 2010 Jul;5(2):129-31. [Accessed 30 Oct. 2023]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3087990/ External Link
  8. Clarke R, Bennett DA, Parish S, Verhoef P, Dötsch-Klerk M, Lathrop M, Xu P, Nordestgaard BG, Holm H, Hopewell JC, Saleheen D, Tanaka T, Anand SS, Chambers JC, Kleber ME, Ouwehand WH, Yamada Y, Elbers C, Peters B, Stewart AF, Reilly MM, Thorand B, Yusuf S, Engert JC, Assimes TL, Kooner J, Danesh J, Watkins H, Samani NJ, Collins R, Peto R; MTHFR Studies Collaborative Group. Homocysteine and coronary heart disease: meta-analysis of MTHFR case-control studies, avoiding publication bias. PLoS Med. 2012 Feb;9(2):e1001177. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22363213/ External Link
  9. B Vitamins. [Internet]. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. March 2023; [Accessed 30 Oct 2023]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamins/vitamin-b/ External Link


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