Author(s): Herrmann W
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Abstract Hyperhomocysteinemia is the result of a disturbed methionine metabolism. It results from enzyme and/or vitamin deficiency. Epidemiological studies have proven, that hyperhomocysteinemia is a risk factor for atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases, stroke, peripheral arterial occlusive disease and venous thrombosis. Conflicting results come from prospective studies. Trials which are now in progress may clarify the "causality" of high homocysteine concentrations and will assess the value of homocysteine-lowering therapy. The induction of the atherogenic process by hyperhomocysteinemia seems to be associated with an alteration of endothelial and smooth muscle cell function leading to an accelerated formation of reactive oxygen species. An increased endothelial expression of adhesion molecules will then lead to an enhanced deposition of oxidized LDL in the vessel wall with the formation of foam cells. Additionally, hyperhomocysteinemia interferes with the coagulation system and thus also has prothrombotic effects. There is a high prevalence of hyperhomocysteinemia as a sign of a vitamin deficiency in elderly subjects which strongly increases with age. Elderly people have a high frequency of vitamin B12 deficiency which can be diagnosed more reliably by the measurement of serum methylmalonic acid (MMA) level than by serum vitamin B12. Subjects following a strict vegetarian diet also have a high prevalence of hyperhomocysteinemia caused by functional vitamin B12 deficiency (increased MMA level). Last but not least, hyperhomocysteinemia is a factor in the pathogenesis of neural tube defects and pre-eclampsia. An early diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency is important for the prevention of neurological damages. Homocysteine should be measured in patients with a history of atherothrombotic vessel diseases, in patients with diabetes or hyperlipidemia, in renal patients, in obese subjects, in elderly people, in postmenopausal women, and in early pregnancy. A specific diagnosis of an underlying vitamin deficiency is important for adequate treatment. Individuals with homocysteine level >12 micromol/l should increase and/or supplement their dietary intake of vitamins.
This article was published in Clin Chem Lab Med
and referenced in Biochemistry & Analytical Biochemistry