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The Mackie Report

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A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine explored the connection between an amino acid known as homocysteine and Alzheimer's disease. Homocysteine also has been correlated with coronary artery disease and stroke, making it a very real health threat.

Five percent to 7 percent of the population is believed to be at risk, with above-normal levels of homocysteine, and levels of the amino acid appear to increase with age. Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia associated with aging are believed to be associated with plasma homocysteine, according to the Journal.

Equally worrisome is the C-reactive protein which, at high levels, can result in high risks for heart attacks, strokes and damage to blood vessels in the form of inflammation. If inflammation exists in the coronary arteries, these associated chemical actions can irritate and narrow blood vessels. This adversely affects the body's immune system and its ability to fight harmful bacterial invasions.

Both homocysteine and C-reactive protein have a connection to LDL cholesterol, the harmful kind that clogs blood vessels with plaque. If left untreated, these conditions can result in heart attack or stroke and possible dementia in later years.

Of course, like any other medical study, more research may need to be conducted and any conclusions must be carefully worded. Research in recent years has looked at the causes and treatments of artery disease and Alzheimer's. While there may not be a cure, preventive treatment may avert a heart attack, stroke or dementia. Following a comprehensive examination and diagnosis, a licensed medical professional can recommend a treatment program.

Certain vitamins appear to be effective in lowering levels of homocysteine. About 500 micrograms (equal to one-half milligram) of vitamin B12 per day, plus 1 milligram of folic acid and 10 milligrams of vitamin B6 seem to work well. This combination is available in prescription tablet form as Foltx (2.5 milligrams a day) or over the counter as Folgard. Lower homocysteine is not proven to prevent heart attacks, strokes, dementia or death, but it has been shown to prevent recurrent blood vessel obstruction in the heart after stents and angioplasties. Most experts believe proof of other benefits soon will be available.

For lowering levels of C-reactive protein, aspirin appears to be a potent anti-inflammatory. Its documented blood-thinning properties are believed to be effective in preventing heart attacks and strokes. Statins, which are potent cholesterol-lowering drugs, also reduce C-reactive protein levels and decrease inflammation in the blood vessels. Fish oil also dramatically lowers blood vessel inflammation, which cardiologists view as a major cause of strokes and heart attacks.

The key to maintaining low levels of homocysteine and C-reactive protein is the same as anything else related to your personal health -- namely taking good care of yourself. Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly and avoiding toxins that can undermine your health, such as tobacco and excessive amounts of alcohol. And don't forget regular checkups; they're important, too.

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