Category Archives: Homocysteine

Can Lowering Homocysteine via Vitamin B Improve Cognitive Impairment?

As we age it’s common for cognitive functions to decline due to the increased rate of brain atrophy. According to previous studies, the amino acid homocysteine increases with age and is a marker for cognitive impairment, brain atrophy and dementia. High levels of homocysteine has also been associated with cardiovascular disease.

Because plasma concentrations of homocysteine can be reduced by dietary intake of B vitamins, researchers at the University of Oxford in England set out to test whether vitamin B supplementation would slow the rate of brain atrophy in elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment.

For the randomized, double-blind experiment, researchers David Smith et al. recruited 646 participants over the age of 70 who had mild cognitive impairment. The subjects were split into two groups and were either treated over the course of 24 months with high doses of folic acid (0.8 mg/d), vitamin B12 (0.5 mg/d) and vitamin B6 (20 mg/d), while the control group was treated with placebo.

Adherence to treatment was determined by measuring plasma vitamins and counting returned tablets. MRI scans were done at the start and end of the trial on a subset of the participants to assess the rate of atrophy.

The effect of vitamin B and homocysteine levels on brain atrophy in the elderly

Of the 168 participants that took part in the MRI scan, brain atrophy was found to be 0.76% per year in the vitamin B group and 1.08% per year in the placebo group. The trial supported the notion that homocysteine levels was associated with rate of atrophy.

They found that the rate of atrophy in participants with homocysteine levels greater than 13 µmol/L was reduced by 53% for the vitamin B group. Cognitive test scores were also shown to be higher for participants with lower rate of atrophy. Based on these results, Smith, et al., conclude that increased rate of brain atrophy in elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment can be slowed by vitamin B intake.

Since Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, starts with mild cognitive impairment, the researchers believe additional studies should be conducted to determine whether vitamin Bs will delay development of the disease.


Part 1: Eating Insects for Your Daily Amino Acids?

Pull up a chair and have a plate of bugs for breakfast?! Although this is not unrealistic or uncommon in most of the world, entomophagy (eating insects for food) brings a feeling of disgust for many in western societies, and a sourpuss face along with it! But eating insects is common to animals (insectivores), even other insects, as well as humans, and for good reasons.

Eating insects of many kinds brings to light the simple fact that they are full of protein and nutrition, and help sustain life. Vitamins, minerals, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, oleic acid, and amino acids are only part of the full story.

In fact, bugs may wind up being a part of the human diet in the future, as it is currently in many countries, and has been prehistorically commonplace for hominids, hominins (human line), throughout time.

The big questions about eating insects include…

What amino acids are present in bugs and are they available to the human body? Exactly what nutritional content is covered for human requirements by consuming edible insects? Eating insects may be good for you, but do they taste good?

According to my daughter, who went to Peru with my mom and some friends and ate a large white grub that is a common to the area for consumption, it tasted lovely, just like an almond. She said, “It tasted good!” However, she also nearly gagged and spit it out. Why? The texture was “too mushy,” she said. The last thing she was thinking about was the amino acid content of the grub! *smiles*

Eating insects raw, such as her raw grub from Peru, are not always necessary. Most people around the world eat them raw as well as roasted, baked, smoked, fried, boiled in salted water, and dried or sun-dried. Of course, most Americans have heard of chocolate covered ants or grasshoppers as a delicacy dessert (or given as a joke, although is a serious meal in other countries). Each method of preparation makes eating insects a different experience, taste, texture, and can be the difference between it tasting good or wanting to spit it out on the ground from whence it came.

Who wants to eat bugs anyway? Lots of people, especially considering they are as easy to scavenge as they are to grow and raise for food, and is easier than gardening or raising small livestock. It is also cheaper than buying food at the grocery store, although bugs-on-a-stick (or loose) of many varieties can be purchased at local markets in many countries, like is often seen in China or Thailand.

The fact is that many grubs, larvae, grasshoppers, caterpillars, termites, palm weevils, mealworms, and other bugs are packed with nutrition such as potassium, calcium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, manganese, and copper according to the FAO. Eating insects can also supply you with necessary iron and amino acids like lysine, things that vegans and vegetarians are often deficient in.

CONTININUE READING Part 2: Eating Insects for Your Daily Amino Acids?


Egg Protein Powder for Your Essential Amino Acids – the Superior Choice?

Egg protein powder has been on the market for years and although not as popular as whey protein, it should be a consideration for those who wish to get a near perfect protein with all the essential amino acids. Why? The pattern in the egg whites, the egg protein nearly matches human growth.

Even without the egg yolk to supplement the body with cholesterol and fats, the protein of the egg provides some amazing nutrient potential. A top quality egg protein powder, can provide a good source of vitamins A, B, D and E.

Egg white protein digests at a moderate pace. It also possesses a high level of sulfur which is essential to various hormonal pathways within the body which in turn, leads to increased muscle mass.

Egg white protein doesn’t cause nearly the problems of bloating as whey protein, and contains all the essential amino acids, unlike hemp or soy.  Egg protein possesses a bland to slightly salty taste and also can easily be made into custom mixes in a shaker or blender.

Of course there is a negative to every protein powder. All this egg protein goodness doesn’t come cheap and consumers should be wary of buying low-grade egg protein powders.

Cheaper products from factory-farmed eggs should be avoided, for chickens in “chicken factories” often live in polluted environments that may even be toxic.  Chickens and their eggs can carry diseases such as salmonella and infections. In addition, factory-farmed eggs may include low levels of antibiotics, or hormones, or other pharmaceuticals.

Is egg protein powder the superior alternative for amino acids?

Both whey and egg protein powders have all the essential amino acids, and if a person doesn’t mind consuming a little cholesterol at a lower price, whey protein is probably the standard from which all other protein powders are judged from.

Another popular plant based protein powder could be hemp. It is low in a couple of essential amino acids, particularly lysine.  But, hemp is also generally considered a superfood. It is high also in essential fatty acids which may sound bad, but actually is really good because of the high amount of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids that many people are deficient in.

Soy protein powder also lacks two essential amino acids in sufficient quantities—methionine and lysine, which are particularly low. For overweight women, especially, soy powder may be great for soy is known for speeding up thyroid function which may be great for those who wish to shed a few pounds while reducing cholesterol. Soy protein powders also may be hugely beneficial for menopausal women, for the isoflavones can reduce hot flashes.

Having made all these comparisons in a nutshell, if you are looking for a zero-cholesterol, animal-based protein powder with all the essential amino acids, egg protein powder is tough to beat for many consumers today.


Lower Blood Sugar – Essential Amino Acids and Diabetes

The question of whether essential amino acids and diabetes had a relationship was a question asked by researchers at the Biochemistry Research Department, part of the Vision Research Foundation in Chennai, India. What they wanted to look at was testing of free amino acids in type 2 diabetic patients to see if oral supplementation would affect these patients.

Diabetes is a disease where too much sugar (glucose) is in the blood. Some people can have type 1 diabetes from childhood, or get it later, but type 2 diabetes is more common, and is typically developed, chronic, and lifelong as well. Technically diabetes mellitus (DM) is a metabolic disease, where the body is unable to produce enough (or any) insulin, which causes these very high glucose levels in blood plasma of patients who have it.

In 2007, the amount of people diagnosed with diabetes, who were 20 years or older, equaled about 1.6 million. Today, in the United States alone, about 7.8 percent of the population—approx. 23.6 million people—have this serious and lifelong disease. The question of essential amino acids and diabetes comes into play because of glucose and insulin.

Insulin, the pancreas, and glucose

Insulin is a hormone created by the pancreas, which must be present in order for glucose to get into our cells (used by the body as food). However, with diabetes, the produces little to no insulin, so the cells do not respond properly, then glucose builds up in the blood and is excreted through the urine; therefore, even though the body has a large amount of glucose, all of that energy is lost. The hope, according to the scientists in India who wanted to test essential amino acids and diabetes, was that amino acids might help with blood glucose levels.

Essential amino acids and diabetes

In a pilot clinical trial the researchers, Sulochana K Natarajan, S Lakshmi, et al., had tested the glucose levels in the blood plasma of Streptozotocin-induced rats that were diabetic. Whether essential amino acids and diabetes, where the former would affect the latter, were related was the question, so they designed an oral test to determine if the effect of such amino acid supplements would help patients that had type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM).

77 subjects with type 2 diabetes participated for two months in a double blind pilot clinical trial. Both sexes, between the ages of 30-60, were involved in the trial and received oral antidiabetic tablets. The essential amino acids and diabetes link was examined by dividing the patients into two groups based on oral supplementation.

The supplements for essential amino acids and diabetes testing included:

1. Lysine

2. Essential amino acids

3. Amino acids and (fat-and-water-soluble) vitamins

4. Calcium phosphate (the control)

Regarding essential amino acids and diabetes, “essential” means that these aminos must be gotten from food or supplements since the body cannot produce them on its own.

Essential amino acids typically include:


The scientists tested the subjects who had essential amino acids and diabetes were examined for: fasting and post-prandial plasma glucose, plasma amino acids, glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c), fasting and post-prandial immunoreactive insulin, urea and creatinine in plasma and sugar, proteins and albumin, plus ketones and proteins.

The results of the trial “revealed a significant decrease in post-prandial plasma glucose (P<0.05) in group B when compared to groups C and D after 45 days. Plasma Arginine was increased in group C from 3.84 to 9.24 mg/dl.” Additionally, the patients having oral essential amino acids and diabetes (type 2) showed a “decrease … [in] plasma glucose without any change in plasma insulin levels, perhaps due to improved insulin sensitivity.”

Although this is good news regarding essential amino acids and diabetes, the long term effects of essential amino acids needs continued study.


Connection between Folic Acid and Amino Acid Homocysteine

There is a connection between folic acid and amino acid homocysteine, but what is it? Folic acid and amino acid (homocysteine, one of the 22 amino acids) functions are quite different, but the former does affect the latter. In fact, blood levels of homocysteine in the body are lowered in the presence of folic acid.

Folic acid is also known as folate; however, folate is slightly different. Folate—a bioavailable and natural form of vitamin B9—comes from the word ‘foliage’ because it is found in leafy greens, such as spinach and other greens, but also from fortified/enriched cereals and animal foods like eggs or liver, as well as plant foods like broccoli, brussel sprouts, lentils, beans, asparagus, cantaloupe, and bananas. Folic acid is merely the synthetic form of folate, and is found in supplements.

Folic acid/folate (vitamin B9) helps the body produce energy, is needed for mental and emotional health, and helps prevent neural tube birth defects like spina bifida, which occurs during the first month of pregnancy, especially in high risk pregnancies. Folic acid deficiencies can occur in people due to alcoholism, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.

The terms (and products) folic acid and amino acid are two different things; where folic acid is vitamin B9, and amino acids like homocysteine, cysteine, leucine, lysine, carnitine, and so on, are simply the building blocks of proteins. All 22 common amino acids are found in protein foods such as meats (chicken, pork, beef, etc.) as well as fish and eggs. Eggs, then, are actually a good source of both folic acid and amino acid content.

So what is the connection between folic acid and amino acid homocysteine?

Although amino acids are necessary for health, sometimes it is not good to have too much of a good thing; homocysteine is one of these amino acids where elevated blood levels of the amino acid can actually cause health problems.

According to Dr. Weil, elevated homocysteine levels are “linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Elevated homocysteine levels are thought to contribute to plaque formation by damaging arterial walls. High levels may also act on blood platelets and increase the risks of clot formation; however, whether high levels of homocysteine actually cause cardiovascular disease has yet to be agreed upon. … In addition, some evidence suggests that people with elevated homocysteine levels have twice the normal risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

The folic acid and amino acid connection is affected by diet as well. People who eat a lot of meat in comparison to leafy greens (that have folate/folic acid) or fruits tend to be highest in homocysteine levels. B vitamins and folic acid help reduce homocysteine levels. Additionally, says Dr. Weil, “homocysteine is also produced in the body from another amino acid, methionine. One of methionine’s main functions is to provide methyl groups for cellular reactions. … Typically, homocysteine then receives another methyl group from either folic acid or vitamin B6 to regenerate methionine.”

Folic acid supplements usually come in .4 to .8 grams, but prescription strength is at 1 g/day, although older pregnant women or high risk moms can take up to 4+ g/day (doctor prescribed). If you are low in folic acid and amino acid levels supplements can be taken for either. High stress and increased coffee consumption can also raise homocysteine levels, however. Homocysteine levels can also be elevated due to psoriasis, kidney disease, or even low thyroid hormones.

Other than talking with your doctor, one of the best ways to deal with the folic acid and amino acid connection, especially if there is an issue, is to eat healthy, get enough exercise, and make sure your daily diet includes plenty of leafy greens and fresh fruits and vegetables and less meat and fried foods, which may also reduce cholesterol and aid cardiovascular health as an added bonus.


Homocysteine, Cysteine, and Colorectal Cancer

Researchers investigated the link between levels of plasma homocysteine and colorectal cancer in postmenopausal women. Will the results shed light on the risk of developing this cancer?

Colorectal cancer—also known as bowel cancer–is a cancer of the colon (large intestine) or rectum. It’s the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and women, and the second leading cause of cancer-related death when statistics for both sexes are combined.

Improved screening techniques have led to the death rate dropping for colorectal cancer. The polyps which form in the early stages can be removed before they develop into cancers, and early detection also means much better prognosis. All cancers are easier to treat when they are detected early.

But better understanding of colorectal cancer is an important topic of research. And new screening techniques could help diagnose the disease even earlier.

JW Miller, SA Beresford, et al, researchers at the Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of California, USA, developed a study to assess the links between the amino acids homocysteine, cysteine, and the incidence of colorectal cancer in postmenopausal women.

Homocysteine is a non-protein amino acid. It’s similar in formula to cysteine, though homocysteine is biosynthesized in our bodies, from the amino acid methionine. It can also be converted into methionine or cysteine with the aid of B-vitamins. We also get cysteine from food, especially high-protein foods like meat, cheese, and eggs.

High levels of homocysteine have been linked to cardiovascular disease. Would they also be linked to colorectal cancer?

Results of homocysteine, cysteine, and colorectal cancer trial

The trial found some significant results. High levels of homocysteine were associated with proximal colon tumors, though not distal or rectal tumors.

They concluded that high plasma homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. High levels of cysteine indicate a decreased risk.


Table of Amino Acid Abbreviations

Students and teachers come together with terms like “Amino acid abbreviations” – but scientists use these abbreviated forms to refer to the 20+ names of amino acids as well.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and they can be gotten from food. Before we get into the amino acid abbreviations you may want to know that there are two main types of amino acids (with a few exceptions)…

Essential and Non-essential amino acids

Essential amino acids does not mean they are “essential” as in necessary… it simply means that they can only be gotten from the food you eat so must be included through diet or dietary supplementation. Protein foods like meats (beef, chicken, pork, etc.) and eggs, as well as fish, are excellent sources of amino acids. Many meat-eating Americans actually eat an overabundance of protein compared with what the human body requires, which can lead to acidity (which leads to disease), cardiovascular and other diseases.

Non-essential amino acids are those that your body can produce naturally. Occasionally, someone is born with a deficiency in their body’s ability to produce the amino acids necessary for proper functioning, leading to diseases or disorders where people have trouble breaking down certain amino acids. An example of the latter is Maple Syrup Urine Disorder (MSUD) which is what newborn babies are screened for soon after birth.

There are 22 different amino acids in all (some of them semi-essential), but about 20 of them are more common. Their names, 3-letter, and 1-letter amino acid abbreviations follow.

Table of amino acid abbreviations

Amino Acid












Aspartic acid






Glutamic acid













































Aspartic acid or Asparagine



Any amino acid



Termination codon


For more information on amino acid abbreviations or more detailed information on amino acids in general, please see other articles at the Amino Acid Information Center. There are also many excellent resources on the Internet or in encyclopedias.


How Many Amino Acids are there – 20, 22, or 200?

For a while it was thought that there were only 20 amino acids, and many websites still reflect this today, but in fact, a couple of more rare aminos were discovered making a total of 22 amino acids. But how many amino acids are there really? 

The real question is how many amino acids exist beyond the 22 we know of SO FAR, and what about other types of amino acids? The reality is that amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of the body, are in abundance within the body. They are sources of energy such as carbohydrates and fats, except that amino acids contain nitrogen (N); because of this they play a role in forming muscles, tissues, organs, skin, and even hair.

Amino acids act as the precursors to neurotransmitters in the brain and enzymes that help with things like digestion. Amino acids are essential for health, and basically regulate the body’s metabolic processes. There are hormones that are made up of amino acids, antibodies too, so they affect the immune system. Plus they transport oxygen and nutrients in the body.

How Many Kinds of Amino Acids are there?

Different amino acids have different functions. How many amino acids, types, or kinds that exist depend on whether they are:


How Many Essential Amino Acids Are There?

How many amino acids are “essential” (meaning you must get them from food)? They are listed as: arginine, histidine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine.

How Many Amino Acids are Non-Essential

How many amino acids are “non-essential” (meaning your body makes them)? These are listed as: alanine, asparagine, aspartate, cysteine, glutamate, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, tyrosine.

However, how many amino acids from one of the above groups are actually conditional or “semi-essential” amino acids? These are: arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamine, proline, serine, tyrosine.

There are 22 Amino Acids

These above are the 20 more well-known amino acids; however, just how many amino acids exist actually are counted as being over 200 in numbers, but the 22 proteinogenic amino acids are the ones that are commonly known.

These more commonly known aminos can be found in food (all meat such as beef, pork, chicken, seafood, and even eggs are excellent sources of all 22 amino acids). They can also be bought as amino acid supplements individually or as a complex of many in balanced forms for their health benefits.

How many amino acids have you had in your diet today?


Sulfur-Containing Amino Acids Cysteine and Methionine

The two main sulfur-containing amino acids are cysteine and methionine; however, there are other sulfur-containing amino acids as well. Both cysteine and methionine are nonpolar as well as hydrophobic, with methionine being extremely hydrophobic as far as amino acids go. Methionine is also found inside proteins, and cysteine is often found there too. There are some other fascinating things about these two (and other) sulfur-containing amino acids.

Aside from methionine and cysteine being most popularly known, other commonly known sulfur-containing amino acids include homocysteine and taurine. The last two are not incorporated into proteins, however. According to the authors at the Journal of Nutrition (JN), the “difference accounts for some of the distinctive properties of the sulfur-containing amino acids. Methionine is the initiating amino acid in the synthesis of virtually all eukaryotic proteins … [and if] exposed, are susceptible to oxidative damage. Cysteine, by virtue of its ability to form disulfide bonds, plays a crucial role in protein structure and in protein-folding pathways.”

The authors of JN discuss a number of these sulfur-containing amino acids—methionine, cysteine, taurine, homocysteine, and the lesser known S-adenosylmethionine.

Importance of sulfur-containing amino acids

Although cysteine and methionine are the primary sulfur-containing amino acids due to being two of the 22 common amino acids that are incorporated within proteins, both taurine and homocysteine are also important for physiological function. So why is sulfur in amino acids since most aminos are made of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen? Because, says JN, oxygen and sulfur both belong to ‘Group 6’ of the Periodic Table of Elements, so are “capable of making similar covalent linkages” with a critical difference that sulfur has a low electronegativity (oxygen has the second lowest electronegativity). So if oxygen replaces the sulfur it would “result in a much less hydrophobic amino acid.”

Furthermore, substituting oxygen for sulfur—causing oxidation—in sulfur-containing amino acids (including in the more rare S-adenosylmethionine) can have effects in methionine residues where the surface is exposed, causing an oxidation-reduction cycle, imparing the activity of “methionine sulfoxide reductase and the subsequent accumulation of methionine sulfoxide residues [that] are associated with age-related diseases, neurodegeneration, and shorter lifespan.”

Lastly taurine, as one of the more remarkable sulfur-containing amino acids, has very high concentrations within muscle tissues and utilizes a wide variety of functions. Taurine is, says JN, the “most abundant free amino acid in animal tissues [even though it] accounts for only 3% of the free amino acid pool in plasma, it accounts for 25%, 50%, 53%, and 19%, respectively, of this pool in liver, kidney, muscle, and brain.” It is also one of the most necessary sulfur-containing amino acids for cats and results retinal degeneration in kittens if the mothers are not fed a taurine-rich diet. Taurine is also found in human mother’s milk and is added to many infant formulas because it helps with eyesight.

So all in all, sufur-containing amino acids are necessary for proper health of both animals and humans in the proper biological functioning and growth, as well being associated with some diseases and anti-aging and neurological issues.


Health Benefits – Amino Acids

Amino acids provide certain health benefits to the human body. They are the building blocks of proteins and help the body’s metabolic functions. Of the 22 amino acids known to science, only 9 are considered to be essential to the human body, with some sources claiming the number is 10.

List of amino acids include Essential, Non-essential, and Conditionally Essential

To avoid amino acid deficiencies and to experience optimum health you must consume the essential amino acids since they cannot be produced by the body. Some medical professionals, like Naturopath Dr. Eliezer Ben-Joseph, who advises his patients and the public on alternative health matters through his Natural Solutions Radio show, suggest a list of 10 amino acids to include in your diet, which include: Arginine, Histidine, Methionine, Threonine, Valine, Isoleucine, Lysine, Phenylalanine, Tryptophan, and Leucine.

10 of the remaining 22 non-essential amino acids, which your body can manufacture on its own include Alanine, Asparagine, Aspartic Acid, Cysteine, Glutamine, Glutamic Acid, Glycine, Proline, Serine, and Tyrosine. Dr. Ben-Joseph suggests that if you are stressed or have a disease then these amino acids are “conditionally essential”: Arginine, Glycine, Cystine, Tyrosine, Proline, Glutamine, and Taurine.

Amino acids help build cells and repair tissues as well as create antibodies to ward off viruses and bacteria. Additionally, they help with enzymes and they body’s hormonal system. Dr. Ben-Joseph suggests these 8 amino acids provide these health benefits:

Tryptophan: is a natural relaxant, alleviates insomnia, and reduces anxiety/depression

Lysene: helps the body absorb calcium

Methionine: supplies sulfur to help hair, nails, and skin

Histidine: repairs tissue, good for digestion/ulcers, blood pressure, nerves, sexual function

Phenylalanine: aids the brain to produce Norepinephrine, which helps the brain and nerve cells

Valine: calms emotions, helps with mental vigor and coordination of the muscles

Leucine & Isoleucine: helps the body manufacture other necessary biochemical components

You can never be certain that you are getting enough of the aminoc acids that your body needs.  It may be a good idea to incorporate amino acid dietary supplements in your health regimen.  Each one serves a different function so it is important to ensure your body obtains the necessary nutrients.  As with anything else, be sure to check with your doctor before taking amino acid supplements or any dietary supplements.