The Homocysteine Connection
One interesting discovery is the link between homocysteine, low B12 levels and bone and joint health. Over the last five years, there have been more and more studies linking high homocysteine and low B12 levels to increased risk of fractures, osteoporosis and decreased bone mass density, particularly in women. It looks as if homocysteine actually damages bone by encouraging its breakdown and interfering with the collagen matrix which is what holds bone together. Collagen is made from vitamin C, which is yet another reason why I recommend a daily intake of 1000mg taken twice a day.
High homocysteine levels are linked to most inflammatory diseases since homocysteine promotes the release of pro-inflammatory agents in the body. Homocysteine levels are frequently found to be much higher in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers as well as those with ankylosing spondylitis, which is an inflammatory arthritic disease of the spine. Since rheumatoid arthritis is a ‘systemic’ disease, where the whole body’s chemistry is out of balance and many tissues and organs other than the joints are affected, one would suspect that homocysteine plays a leading role in the disease. And it does.
Research from the Department of Biochemistry at the University Hospital in Madrid, Spain, examined the homocysteine scores of women with rheumatoid arthritis versus those without. There was a massive difference. The average homocysteine score for those with rheumatoid arthritis was a sky-high 17.3, compared to 7.6 for those without! Other research groups have found similar differences, especially among rheumatoid arthritis sufferers with a history of thrombosis or abnormal clotting of the blood.
Homocysteine is now thought to damage joints and other tissues directly. All of this suggests that reducing homocysteine may well help keep your bones and joints healthy. Yet, disappointingly, very little research has yet been done to test the homocysteine theory on arthritis. An exception occurred in 1994 when forward-thinking researchers from the highly esteemed American College of Nutrition in Clearwater, Florida, gave B12 and folate supplements to 26 people who had been suffering from osteoarthritis of the hands for an average of more than five years, and had been taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving drugs (NSAIDs).
B12 and folate work together to help reduce high homocysteine levels. The results showed that people with arthritis who took the vitamins in place of the NSAIDs had less tenderness in their hand joints, and similar improvement in their ability to grip objects, compared with those just taking NSAIDs, but suffered none of the notorious side-effects seen with the use of these drugs. NSAIDs can cause serious reactions, including premature death from kidney failure, ulcers and bleeding in the digestive tract, and they cost considerably more than B12 and folate supplements. As many as two in five people over 60 are B12 deficient, if tested, and the lowest level that corrects B12 deficiency is 500mcg a day. While fish, meat, eggs and milk all contain B12, only milk and fish consumption are linked to increasing blood B12 levels, possibly indicating that these foods have more bioavailable B12. Even so, you are unlikely to get more than 3mcg of B12 from your food. Most B12 experts think that we could all benefit from a daily intake of 10mcg which is the minimum I’d recommend in a good multivitamin. B6, another homocysteine-lowering vitamin, has also proven helpful for arthritis sufferers.
Back in the 1950s, an insightful physician from Mount Pleasant in Texas, Dr John Ellis, found that giving B6 in higher daily doses of 50mg helped to control pain and restore joint mobility to his arthritic patients. (For further information read, JM Ellis’s book, Free of Pain: A Proven Inexpensive Treatment for Specific Types of Rheumatism, Southwest Publishing,1983). Vitamin B6 shrinks inflamed membranes that line the weight-bearing surfaces of the joints, perhaps by helping decrease homocysteine and increase SAMe and glutathione, both proven anti-inflammatory agents. B6 also helps to regulate production of the prostaglandins, the body’s own anti-inflammatory agents.
Keeping Your Joints Healthy
There are two sides to joint health. The first is keeping cartilage strong and healthy, and the second is reducing joint inflammation, which is the primary cause of cartilage breakdown. The two main components of cartilage are proteoglycans and collagen. As explored earlier, collagen is made from vitamin C. Proteoglycans are made from glucosamine – the only direct source of which you are likely to eat is prawn or shrimp shells, although crunching on these is not to everybody’s taste. Glucosamine is like the 2x4’s of your joints, while the mineral sulphur is like the nails. This is one reason why glucosamine sulphate is often recommended for joint health.
Slightly better, in my opinion, is the combination of glucosamine hydrochloride, a more absorbable form of glucosamine, with MSM, the most bioavailable form of sulphur. Sulphur is found in onions, ......
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