Although 50 million Americans suffer from autoimmune diseases, mainstream medicine is largely reactive, offering only pharmaceuticals when your problem gets bad enough. Despite spending trillions of dollars on autoimmune conditions, we're sicker than ever. There's very little that's "healthy" about our current healthcare system. Let's start calling it what it is: "disease management" or "sick care system."
We need to start looking at sustainable natural solutions for these chronic autoimmune problems. But it's also important to know your risk factors early so you can prevent the problems in the first place!
Functional medicine practitioners are concerned with just that. We find the pieces of the autoimmune puzzle and tailor a comprehensive natural health plan to the individual's specific needs.
There's one lab that serves as both a risk factor indicator and an effect of autoimmunity. A simple blood lab called a homocysteine test is one that I recommend for all of my patients around the world, but especially for my autoimmune patients.
What is homocysteine?
Homocysteine is an amino acid produced in the body. It's normal to have homocysteine, but high levels are linked to autoimmune conditions.
What makes homocysteine high?
Stress, poor diet and toxins can all raise homocysteine levels in the body. A process called methylation is needed to keep your body healthy and homocysteine in check. To have healthy methylation pathways, your body needs beneficial methyl donors, namely B vitamins from the foods you eat, which convert homocysteine to SAMe and glutathione.
SAMe increases the availability of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, and protects your nerves. Glutathione is your body's strongest antioxidant. Both are essential for putting autoimmune reactions into remission. When your methyl donors are lacking, homocysteine accumulates in the body.
Homocysteine can also increase with estrogen deficiency, and with some long term medications given to autoimmune patients. Strict vegetarians and vegans can also be prone to methylation impairments due to a potential deficiency of vitamin B12. These are just some of the factors that can raise homocysteine.
Healthy methylation pathways and balanced homocysteine levels protect your DNA. Methylation keeps good genes turned on and bad genes turned off. Conversely, methylation impairment is a key finding in autoimmune conditions, and can trigger an autoimmune response.
High homocysteine levels can also be a consequence of poor absorption of B vitamins, which is needed for methylation pathways.
Homocysteine & The Brain
Homocysteine levels above 7 UMOL/L have been shown to damage the protective blood-brain barrier (leaky brain syndrome), and are linked to autoimmune spectrum diseases like Alzheimer's. More than 5.4 million people in the US have Alzheimer's disease, and by the year 2050, it's estimated that up to 16 million Americans will have it.
Protecting your brain, neurotransmitters and myelin are key factors in reversing and preventing autoimmune decline. All of these depend on healthy methylation pathways.
Homocysteine & The Heart
High homocysteine levels are linked with cardiovascular damage, and heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Many autoimmune conditions, such as lupus and autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto's or Graves), increase the risk for heart attack and stroke. Protecting the heart is of utmost importance to anyone, especially someone with higher risks.
What to do now?
Another lab to run in conjunction with measuring homocysteine is a MTHFR genetic mutation test. The more gene polymorphisms you have, the more methylation impairments you're likely to experience, which leads to higher homocysteine levels. This genetic predisposition is found in many autoimmune cases, such as Hashimoto's. Knowing your risk factors is the first step to optimizing your health.
In addition to homocysteine and MTHFR mutation tests, there are several other labs I recommend for optimal DNA health!
If you have high homocysteine levels or an autoimmune condition, the type of B vitamins you take is important. Be sure to go for the activated forms of folate, B6 and B12: