As part of the process in getting my body healthy through food, Dr. Gutman ordered a battery of tests for me as a sort of baseline risk assessment for heart disease and diabetes. The good news: I’m actually in a much better place than I thought I would be. My cholesterol is high, but not as high as I was expecting (I do love a good steak), and I’m at zero risk for developing diabetes (and with any luck, won’t develop any risk, thanks to the Whole Foods I’m eating now).
Here’s where things get interesting. As part of the testing, they examined a few genes in particular in my DNA samples. The reason they check for them is that they can have implications for heart disease – from my own research, it seems like those implications are still somewhat controversial, although everyone seems to agree that even if it’s not heart disease, these genetic mutations can put you at risk for some other long term health issues.
<Brace yourselves, science jargon ahead. Doc, feel free to call me out on getting everything about this wrong. I still only halfway understand it>
Now there are two genes in particular that were examined. These genes control my body’s ability to process folate, which is a vital nutrient for some processes in cells, so that the folate can mitigate the accumulation of homocysteine in my body. I’ll explain what homocysteine is and why we worry about high levels of it in a moment. One of the genes is functioning normally. The other isn’t functioning at all, which means both my parents are carriers for that mutation. So the question is, is the fully functioning gene able to handle the homocysteine levels in my body.
Luckily the lab also tested for that.
My homocysteine levels were indeed high. Not scary high, but enough that we want to treat it. Ideally, you’d want levels below 8.0 (no idea what the unit of measurement is), and mine is 15.3. So why do we worry about elevated homocysteine? Well, apparently it causes arterial damage over the long term, and that has been strongly linked to blood clots and stroke, as well as Alzheimers and Dementia. The controversial part is the heart disease, but why risk it, especially when I’d rather like to avoid those former effects as well!
What’s crazy is that I never would have known I was at risk if not for the test. Elevated levels of homocysteine don’t present ANY symptoms, so you’ll just be hit with some scary new health issue, and while it was preventable, you didn’t know it.
The solution is simple: I’ll be taking extra folate (possibly pre-methylized) for the rest of my life. Easy enough, happy to do it.
But I keep thinking to myself: how lucky am I that I have a doctor, a real pro, who is thorough, who ACTUALLY knows what he’s talking about so he can steer you straight? Seems like every other day that I find some piece of information that might help me, promising to cure my eczema if I only “Eat this!” “Do this!” “Stop this!” I’m a layman. I mean, I do my research. I educate more than is generally reasonable, but I still don’t know enough to suss out the bogus from the bonafide. It’s situations like these that really make you appreciate having a highly educated, experienced authority to lean on.
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