Homocysteine and HS-CRP: More Keys to a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle

Learn easy, heart-friendly meal substitutes

By Roberta H. Anding, MS, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Preventing heart disease goes beyond lowering cholesterol. Professor Anding shares other things you should be aware of when requesting blood tests, as well as a simple way to modify your diet.

Close up of woman chopping vegetables
Increasing dietary intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, decreasing saturated fatty acid, and getting a high-sensitivity C-reactive protein test (HS-CRP) done, which measures inflammatory response, can help you in your efforts to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. Photo By eggeegg / Shutterstock

What Is Homocysteine?

As you start to develop a more heart-healthy lifestyle, you should be aware of the role that homocysteine plays in heart disease. Homocysteine is a highly reactive, sulfur-containing amino acid formed from the metabolism of an essential amino acid called methionine. It may contribute to increased damage to the lining of the arterial wall, which opens the door for cholesterol building plaque and can lead to fatal blockages. 

An increased level of homocysteine in the blood results from the increased consumption of protein-rich foods and insufficient consumption of vitamin-rich foods. A lot of the research on this topic is still emerging, but the proposed defense mechanism for this process is that the vitamins found in fresh foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables can catabolize or break down homocysteine, sparing the damage to your arterial walls. 

Vitamins of particular importance include vitamin B12, B6, and folic acid. When we look at other ways of assessing our disease risk, another strategy comes up. 

Why You Need a HS-CRP Test

Many scientists believe that part of what’s happening in cardiovascular disease and other diseases is the inflammatory process. You can request a test called C-reactive protein from your physician, which is a measure of inflammatory response. 

It can be further refined to discriminate between general inflammation—such as bumping your knee—and heart disease-specific inflammation. This would be a high-sensitivity C-reactive protein test, often abbreviated to HS-CRP.

According to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, the HS-CRP is probably the most predictive measure of heart disease for women. Elevated CRP can also predict age-related macular degeneration. 

Values in general—though this largely depends on the lab that you use—should be less than one milligram per deciliter of blood. Some research suggests that elevated CRP also may be increased with infectious diseases, most notably the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia. 

The New England Journal of Medicine study indicated that those who had a near optimal level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (known as “bad cholesterol”) but an elevated inflammatory marker CRP had a 44% change in cardiovascular disease risk when medication was given that reduced CRP. 

Simple Fixes for Your Diet

Now that you know your risk, you may be wondering what steps you can take to prevent heart disease. First of all, you can increase your dietary intake of polyunsaturated fats, decrease saturated fatty acid, and increase monounsaturated fats. 

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and come from animals and plants. Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and primarily oils—not including coconut oil or palm oil. Monounsaturated fats come from nuts, oils, and seeds. 

Additionally, you can increase dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids, eliminate trans fats, and moderate your alcohol consumption. Incorporating these recommendations into your daily life is simple. 

Instead of eating a ribeye, which contains a lot of fat, you can eat a top sirloin instead. When you’re shopping for red meat, keep in mind that the word “loin” in the name—in this case top sirloin—indicates lean. Other examples include pork tenderloin and beef tenderloin, which is filet mignon. 

Instead of having a baked potato loaded with cheese and sour cream, try a baked potato with Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is protein-rich and tastes like sour cream. 

“I use it in all recipes that call for sour cream,” Professor Anding said. “You can’t boil it or get it real hot, but it really serves as a great surrogate for sour cream on baked potatoes.” 

Instead of a salad with Ranch dressing, try a salad with reduced-fat salad dressing.

In the first option with ribeye, baked potato with cheese and sour cream, and salad with regular Ranch dressing, the total fat content is 114 grams. 

The modified meal—which still includes red meat, a baked potato, and a salad—you’ve cut that down to 45 grams. You can still have foods that you like; you’re just being a smarter fat consumer in order to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, integrating more fresh vegetables into your diet will reduce your chances of developing excess homocysteine, thus, protecting your heart.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.

Professor Roberta H. Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. She also teaches and lectures in the Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine, and in the Department of Kinesiology at Rice University.