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Homocysteine: One of the Best Objective Markers of How Healthy You Are

As a general marker of overall health status, few tests carry greater predictive weight than homocysteine.

The amount of homocysteine in your blood is one of the best objective indicators of how healthy you are and how long you are going to live.

A high blood level of homocysteine is a reliable risk factor for each of the following:

  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Cerebrovascular accident (stroke)
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid-related health challenges
  • Neurological conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's
  • Depression
  • Infertility
  • Chronic Pain
  • Digestive Disorders

What exactly is homocysteine?

Homocysteine is an amino acid that your body makes from another amino acid called methionine. You obtain methionine from many of the protein-dense foods that you eat on a regular basis, such as sunflower seeds, eggs, and fish.

Normally, homocysteine found in your blood gets converted into two substances called SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine) and glutathione. Both SAMe and glutathione have health-promoting effects. Specifically, SAMe helps to prevent depression, arthritis, and liver damage. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant and detoxifying agent that helps to slow down aging.

Put another way, you want your body to efficiently convert homocysteine into SAMe and glutathione.

Conversion of homocysteine to SAMe requires the following nutrients:

  1. Folate
  2. Vitamin B12
  3. Vitamin B2
  4. Zinc
  5. TMG (trimethylglycine - from choline)
  6. Magnesium

And conversion of homocysteine to glutathione requires the following nutrients:

  1. Vitamin B6
  2. Vitamin B2
  3. Zinc

When your body does not efficiently convert homocysteine into SAMe and glutathione, the amount of homocysteine in your blood rises.

A high blood level of homocysteine hurts your health in the following ways:

  1. High Homocysteine Speeds Up Oxidation and Aging

    Normal metabolic processes that occur in your body are constantly producing free radicals, which are unstable forms of oxygen, also called oxidants. The pace at which you age depends in large part on your body’s ability to protect its tissues against these free radicals. High homocysteine significantly increases free-radical oxidation in your body and the damage that comes with it.

  2. High Homocysteine Causes Damage to Your Arteries

    High blood levels of homocysteine can damage cholesterol that is found in your blood, which can lead to direct damage of the walls of your arteries. This can lead to a series of reactions that results in thickening of the walls of your arteries, leaving less room for proper circulation. This whole process is commonly referred to as atherosclerosis.

    High homocysteine can also cause your blood to have a higher than normal tendency to clot, which increases your risk of developing a dangerous clot that could lead to a stroke.

    Finally, high homocysteine is known to significantly lower nitric oxide in your blood. Nitric oxide is a gas that is critical to maintaining healthy and flexible arterial walls.

  3. High Homocysteine Causes Your Immune System to Weaken

    When a high blood level of homocysteine is the result of inefficient conversion of homocysteine to glutathione, your body has less glutathione and the antioxidant activity that it provides. With less glutathione and antioxidant activity in your blood, your cells are more susceptible to damage by free radicals, which accelerates overall aging.

  4. High Homocysteine Increases Pain and Inflammation

    A high blood level of homocysteine promotes higher blood levels of arachidonic acid and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), which are chemicals that your body uses to promote inflammation. While inflammation is necessary for healing in the short term, chronic inflammation can cause lasting structural damage to various tissues like your arteries, joints, and nerves.

Ultimately, because a high blood level of homocysteine accelerates aging and decreases the strength of your immune system, it is not a stretch to say that having high homocysteine over the long term significantly increases your risk of every chronic health condition that we know of, including many varieties of cancer.

If homocysteine is such a powerful marker for disease, then why is it that we hear so little about it from doctors and in the media?

The answer is simple. Currently, there are no patented drugs that are designed to lower blood levels of homocysteine. With no patented drugs for lowering homocysteine, pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to spend their marketing dollars on educating doctors and increasing public awareness about homocysteine. Some doctors who know about the diagnostic value of homocysteine may be reluctant to order this test for their patients because they wouldn't know what to prescribe for patients who have high levels.

Despite the lack of widespread testing for homocysteine, many cardiologists in the United States now use homocysteine in evaluating their patients. Many doctors in Europe are starting to include homocysteine along with the usual parameters in a routine blood work up. In Canada, general practitioners rarely order a blood test for homocysteine; if you want one, you have to ask your doctor to include it on the requisition that details the blood work that he or she wants done.

So, what is a healthy blood level for homocysteine?

A good resource for information on homocysteine is The H-Factor Solution*, by Dr. James Braly and Patrick Holford. Based on their review of numerous epidemiological studies on homocysteine, they have come up with the following table:

Homocysteine Level

Health Status

Below 6 units

10 percent of population
Extremely low risk for disease

6 to 8.9 units

35 percent of population
Low risk for disease, could be better

9 to 11.9 units

20 percent of population
Significant risk for premature death from degenerative diseases

12 to 14.9 units

20 percent of population
High risk for premature death from degenerative diseases

15 to 19.9 units

10 percent of population
Extremely high risk category, at risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or Alzheimer's disease in the next ten to thirty years

Greater than 20 units

Extremely high risk, right now, of heart attack and stroke.

What can you do if your homocysteine is high?

Here are steps that you can take immediately to reduce your homocysteine score and significantly improve your health:

  1. Eat mainly healthy fats and oils.

  2. Strive to make vegetables at least fifty percent of your diet.

  3. Eat high-quality protein, foods like organic eggs, wild fish, legumes, dark green vegetables, and small amounts of nuts and seeds.

  4. Don’t drink more than one cup of caffeinated coffee or tea per day.

  5. Have no more than one cup of beer or red wine per day.

  6. Work at reducing stress.

  7. Don’t smoke.

  8. Go easy on salt and salty foods. When you must use some salt, use small amounts of mineral-dense sea salt.

  9. Be sure to have reliable whole food sources of the following nutrients in your diet:

To learn about a whole food supplement formula that I have found to be helpful for lowering homocysteine, have a look here: Homocysteine Care.

While I consider The H-Factor Solution to be an excellent resource for information on homocysteine, I encourage you to read my article on synthetic vs. natural vitamins before you follow the authors' recommendations on supplementation.

 
 

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What can you do if your homocysteine is high?

12.75

After reading this I requested a Homocysteine test from my Doctor only to discover a level of 18!!! My doctor indicated a healthy level is around 7 and that there are no known drugs or medications to help with this. I have been extremely sick with Arthritis/inflammation in all joints, chronic fatigue, infection, brain fog and overall feeling of sickness for the past 6 years and have done many tests that have all appeared normal until now! I highly recommend this test to anyone whether they are sick or not!
Thank you Dr. Ben Kim!

Homocysteine and HIGH LEVELS

Well..I too have high level and I am extremely healthy. I had my level checked because I was curious and I found out my levels were 21.1. Well I also decided to check my C_reatinine protein and that was .03(EXTREMLY LOW-GOOD). Anyways, I bought a bunch of expensive vitamins for LEF. HIGH DOSEAGE OF ALL THE "special" stuff we need" SO THEY SAY". Before I subjected my body to 40,000% they daily recommend of B6 and 9000% b12, & 400% of Folic, TMG too I DECIDE TO GET MY VITAMIN BLOOD LEVELS CHECKED to my surprise my blood levels were ALREADY 3 TIMES HIGHER THAN YOU ARE SUPPOSE TO BE.

The point I am making.. Well simply there is no GREAT INFO out there on this and pretty much if you can READ THROUGH ALL THE FANCY MEDICAL TERMS YOU WILL SEE THAT 40-50% OF THE PEOPLE WHO DIE OF HEART DISEASE HAVE HIGHER HOMOCYCTEIN LEVELS. Okay so what about the other 40-60% I would assume they are NORMAL. Oh yeah if you can find an article that tells you how high the person was that died. Homocystein levels are hard to find. You will notice their levels ranged 13-20. My cardio is a good one when the doctor compared it to people with LONG ARMS.. IF you have LONG ARMS you are 50% LIKELY TO DIE OF A HEART DIEASE. Makes sense? Anyhow be smart, get your vitamin blood levels checked, then see where you stand. If you eat healthy you may not even need vitmans. I am sure my comments are full of facts and dats and most of our doctors write the prescription and wait on that check! Nothing against doctors. It's not their fault, it's the industry!! How the heck can someone have a nuclear stress test and die of a heart attack a month later. Okay I am done. I like hearing high homocyctein levels. I won't go into WHY 20% have HIGH HOMO LEVELS but it has to do with a GENE MUTATION where the parents give it. Oh yeah I am sure EVERYONE knows how the Harvard research in the 60's found out about HOMOCYSTEIN was because little children had early deaths from HEART DIEASES. I bet money if we found out what those children levels were you would see they were OVER 200!
I would like a doctor out there to show me I am wrong!

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

Homocysteine and diet

Dear friend,

It is obvious that you have lost trust in GP's. The current approach taken by many practitioners who tend to write scripts for every minor niggle and pain we get (I agree, this is not correct), which is mostly a direct result from imbalances in our environment, or diet and lifestyle.

Additionally, many natural therapists take a drug approach with nutrition, that is, mega dosing isolated nutrients to fill a gape caused by poor dietary habits.

This type of intervention may over tax the liver, over stimulate an organ and increase 'total' stress to an already sick body, as it takes allot of energy to metabolize large amounts of supplements. These practitioners are known as 'holistic pharmacists'.

However, understanding your concerns in your last post regarding improper practice(s), the fact is that there are bogus professionals along with much misinformation circulating on diet and health everywhere.

The confusion and contradicting advice steams from industry and the fact that there is loads of money involved in keeping our society dysfunctional, relying on drugs, medication etc

Does this mean that all doctors, natural therapists and scientific papers are bogus? Absolutely not!

We just need to become good consumers of information and discern between marketing, advertising, junk science and make sensible conclusions regarding your own health using sound science and information.

The fact is that, homocysteine is toxic and you should be concerned with your levels that are extremely high at 20.1. Apart from being toxic, homocysteine generates large amounts of free radicals which are highly reactive oxygen particles.

Free radicals are like red hot ball bearings that will burn and damage anything they come in contact with, your cells, tissues and cholesterol (causing premature aging).

When your cholesterol is damaged (oxidized) your immune system doesn't recognize it as normal and will smear it (the damaged cholesterol) into the arterial wall, this is the beginning of heart disease...

Free radicals are how and why we age, depending on how many you produce is how fast you age. plants, fruits and vegetables hold the key to not only neutralizing your free radicals, but also lowering your homocysteine to healthy levels.

Homocysteine and diet

Again, as Dr. Kim suggested homocysteine is a byproduct of protein metabolism, mainly animal protein.

In addition to dietary change, Whole food supplements are the only are the only intervention that I have researched to effectively reduce your homocysteine levels. However, this does not address the greater issue here, and that is, why are your homocysteine levels so high?

Wouldn't it make sense if homocysteine is a byproduct of excess protein metabolism, to reduce your consumption of animal protein. The good news is that you don't need drug or supplementation to reduce this toxic amino acid, you just may have move towards ideal dietary habits.

It is really important to be clear on what constitutes a good diet, one that promotes healthy weight, body composition, blood health and health longevity.

Human beings are designed to thrive on complex carbohydrates, fiber rich foods, with animal foods playing a more minor role.

Scientists have been able to conclusively determine the best diet for human beings by evaluating the diet and lifestyle habits and the disease rates for various populations around the world. The healthiest people live in parts of Africa and in Asian countries.

These people eat diets that consists of primarily fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains.

They eat very minimal amounts of animal foods, if any!

The World Health Organisation determined protein needs to be 2.5% of total calories several years ago and established a recommendation of 5% which is more than enough for health and tissue repair.

However, in spite of these optimal standards which is parallel with protein consumption in the healthier populations around the world, people in more developed countries eat far to much protein and its adverse effects on health are many. In short, one of those effects are increased levels of homocysteine and free radicals.

By simply moving towards a whole food plant based diet that provides balanced nutrition from all macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, proteins and fiber) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants), not only will you reduce your homocysteine levels, but you will also neutralise excess free radicals that are sure to be causing damage on healthy cells 'Oxidative Stress'.

You will not need to completely eliminate animal foods from your diet, although you should significantly
reduce them to about 10% of total weekly calories. A point a reference would be 2-3 meals per week or a little more if you are using them as condiment in a salad for example.

The rest of the diet should consist of good whole plant foods, in best case raw and organic.... Fuel your body with proper food to build healthy cells, tissue and organs. Eliminate any negative ingredients mostly found in refined foods and animal products.

Additionally, stress management, filtered water and exercise will complete a blue print of health to follow.... Not only will you reduce your homocysteine, but, you will look better, feel better and live longer!

First and foremost, improving 'total' diet and lifestyle is recommended. However, there is a time and place for everything and there maybe times when the use of medication or supplements are and can be very beneficial.

Time and place for intervention:

Drugs, herbs and supplements should only be used while the total diet and lifestyle are being improved....

Whole food concentrates are a great way to include more nutrient dense foods into the daily diet that you simply wouldn't eat on a regular basis.

In addition to eating good whole foods, this is a great way to maximize nutrient density and achieve dietary excellence (complement, not replacement).

Some of the best foods for us we simply don't eat on regular basis 'EVERY DAY', yet we thrive on these foods. Foods such as red cabbage, kale, beats, broccoli, acerola cherries and many many more.

You need to ask yourself the question. Would it be good to include more of these foods into your daily diet, in addition to your regular diet?

Whole food concentrates contain thousands of little synergistic nutrients that promote optimal blood health and maintain cellular balance.

If you choose to use something, only use evidenced based products that have independent peer reviewed published studies conducted on the brand name. This will ensure the integrity of the product and its effect on human health. More studies the better.

With so much on the market today with so many claims, this is how you divide the junk from quality and hollow promises. It maybe a good concept, but goods concepts should be supported by good research!

Summing up:

You should be concerned about homocysteine, to not be, would be like saying to a smoker not to be concerned about cancer, the research is conclusive....

The answer, is to keep learning, asking questions until you receive answers that not only make sense, but also make healthy change achievable without intervention.

Recommended reading:

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
Courses Wellness 101 - 501 Dr. Pam Popper The Wellness Forum

These doctors are leaders in the field of nutrition and nutrition research. In addition to Dr. Ben's website these are others websites and books that may help you continue your journey of health discovery.

These courses are very comprehensive and help you ask the right questions regarding diet and health longevity.

Kind regards

BK

HCY : Thanks for taking the time!

Dr.BK,
Thanks so much for setting me straight.. I am just very very fustrated because I read two books called "The Heart Revolution:Kilmer S. McCully and The heart ?? by Dr.Mirkin" Well I went on the diets recommended by this books(basically DASH diets by American Heart Assocation) and read all about HCY.. I lost 30lbs in 2 months, my Cholestrol dropped from 230 to 175(HDL52/LDL95) and I felt great.. I was not exercising account I have neck issues(hernated disc).. I felt pretty darn good.. So then I decided to get my HCY check and as you know i was "speech less" by the news. I really scared me.. Then I check my C-REATIVE PROTIEN and that was .3 so I felt little better. My blood pressure has dropped to normal limits since loosing the weight(in the AM 115/65 and at night around 130/80)

I am gonna give it another shot! I am going to go on a VEGAN diet except a FISH or lean chicken twice a week and also incorporate CARDIO EXERCISE which i did not do the first time because of my neck..

BTW- I am 36yo white male, no early family history ofheart dieases(grandfather on father side had a stroke in his 70's- he is the only one).. I have NEVER smoked, and i do not drink. However over the past 5 years I have developed a a ANEXITY disorder which I am not taking reg meds (once in a while 10-20x a year I will take a XAXNAX..-I started this in 2009)... I am currenty 5'10, 210lbs, and can jog 2 miles slowly(25mins).. I was very athletic in my younger years..

All this has been so fustrating cause its pretty freaky when u have such a HIGH HCY level.. My cardio doc said its not a GREAT thing, but neither is smoking, being over weight, etc. He said if I TAKE HUGE AMOUNTS OF Folic acid and etc it CAN BE MORE HARMFUL that good! My CARDIO(again I do like him, but I dont view him as someone who know everything) has been around for 30years.. He said at best I could only reduce it by a few and there have been studies that suggest 20% of the population will have HIGH HCY no matter what and treating with HIGH LEVELS of b12, B6, Folate can be BAD FOR YOUR HEART!!

Dr.BK, I even CHECKED MY BLOOD LEVELS and I could not believe MY B12-was like 800, B6-level was 70's, & FOLATE was >25's.. I BLOOD LEVELS are already HIGH HIGH HIGH! I got a buch of TMG, and LEF stuff to reduce HCY, but I am so unsure how to take them...

I HAVE NO BAD HABITS.. I eat exceptionally well plus for the past 4 months no( iw as hard core on my diet for 2 months) I eat atleast 1 BAG of spinach or Arugula (like spinach) EVERY DAY with TONS of fruit.. I only EAT ANIMAL PROTIEN ONCE A DAY and sometime I may have 2 eggs in the morning and animal protien at night(RARELY)..

Any help u can provide me I would really appricate it!! I am motivated to get my blood levels right and my OCD can help me do this:o)! By you taking the time to write back has made me want to try to do the write thing one more time.. My family tells me STOP worring and just eat normal.. Everyone I know smokes, drinks and eats fast food, but hey they are NOT walking around "KNOWING" what there HCY level is....

Dr.BK, I would be willing to compensate you to consult with me on a personal level. If at all possible I would invite you into my adventure on lowing my HCY and help prove to me it can be done.. I eat healthy because I figure if I die of a stroke atleast everyone in my family knows i tried.. My INSURANCE wont cover the HCY test.. I paid the 180$ for my first test.. After reading your email I AM GOING TO WORK HARD ON EATING CLEAN and continuing my cardio workouts for the next 3 months to see where this gets me..

Please feel free to contact me at donald_wardy at comcast dot net if u would like to join me on this adventure.

Thanks for your time
Don

UPDATED HCY INFO!

Well just to keep everyone update.. I decided to get my HCY levels checked again after the first time i check which was 4 months ago..
My first HCY test revealed HCY levels of 20.1 which SCARED me because prior to taken this test I ate perfect(DASH DIET WITH LOGS OF VEGI and ANIMAL PROTIEN 3-4 times a week) and took daily vitamens of B12, B6, and FOlate because ALL THIS WAS TOLD TO ME BY A BOOK that Dr.McCully wrote on the Heart HEalthy revolution.. Anyhow that book talked about the importance of HCY testing.. Well hell after losing 30lbs i figure I would be in perfect shape and guess what I FELT GREAT and mycholestrol dropped 40pts from 235 to 174(though my HDL dropped also from 72 to 38) ANyhow along with my wonderful cholestrol drop MY HCY LEVELS were 20.1( i have no idea what they were prior to the diet.. Okay so I just checked them again and it was

8.1 HCY what am i doing different.. Well for the past 1 MONTH i have been exercising 5 -6 days a week, I STOPPED TAKING ALL THOSE DARN VITAMENS, and I ate little more meat(animal lean protien once a day)

SO way in the WORLD did my HCY LEVEL DROP 70%!! I have no idea.. Both test were done fasting.... I will recheck them in 3 months to keep everyone POSTED, this time I WILL TAKE WHEY PROTIEN, B12(i like the way it makes me feel).. OH I FORGOT MY CHOLESTROL SHOT BACK UP TO 235 TOTAL, 140 LDL and 69 HDL.. So i cannot figure out why it seems when my CHOLESTROL IS HIGH my HCY is LOW.. ALSO MY C-reative PROTIEN FOR both test was LOW at .3 and .5.. What a puzzle.. MY ADVISE BEFORE YOU LOAD UP ON VITAMENS GET YOUR CURRENT LEVELS CHECK FIRST then supplement what is needed. DONT FORGOT a few vitmens can cause TOXICITY issues such as B6.. Just becuase they are water soluable does not mean they are safe or it does not build up in other places in yoru body...

PLEASE I AM FAR FROM A DOCTOR and as u can see from my spelling not much as writer either, but MY HISTORY is just plain facts and the truth. Everyones people reacts differently to life(supplments, eating, stress) There is no magic pill, but I am sure supplments can helo given u understand your bodys chem to a small extent..

GOOD LUCK TO ALL

homocysteine level

Have been dealing with issues for over 20 years. Muscle spasms, migraines, pain. Diagnosed with fibro and cervical kyphosis as well as depression and anxiety. All tests come back normal. Just had homocysteine level checked for first time. Is 43.. hmm.. think its a little high???

homocystein level

I was not aware that homocystein is contributary to Heart disease. I got my HCY tested recently and it is 20.78 which is alarming as I am at high risk of heart disease.

My HCY level is high may be due to lack of exercise and stress at work.

I think I should start doing exercise and intake of folic acid tabs may reduce the HCY level

I am a physician with an

I am a physician with an interest in nutrition. I practice in anesthesiology which focuses on physiology but does not specifically focus on nutrition. Remarkably, nutrition is a grossly underemphasized body of knowledge in medicine. Nonetheless there is a growing population of physicians who understand and who are trying to promulgate the idea of healthy, eating healthy life. This is so important in a day and age where nutrition has been hijacked by a for profit food product industry which has lead to epidemic levels of illness in the form of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, to name the big ones. There is plenty of good data out there to support a diet low in animal products which contribute to your ill health as identified by higher homocysteine levels. Unfortunately, sifting through the data does require a certain sophistication, or education and understanding. Statistics are easily manipulated and the "food" industry has a lot to lose if you understand what healthy eating boils down to. You may be healthy now with high homocysteine levels and you may be one of those few lucky genetically endowed persons that escapes the usual consequences. But that does not negate all of the data, information, that currently exists pointing to homocysteine as a marker of poor health. An example, a diet high in animal products leads to a chronic low grade acedemia which is buffered by leaching calcium phosphate from your bones. In plain English this means that eating animal products, including the milk many physicians recommend, leads to osteopenia and osteoporosis, weak bones, and fractures. While this isn't specifically related to homocysteine levels it is an example of eating habits leading to illness with an easy to understand physiologic explanation. Unfortunately, the majority of physicians practicing today unwittingly support the food and pharmaceutical industries. There is little profit in prescribing a healthy diet ("Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." Michael Pollan). No wonder people are confused. Dr Kim knows what he is talking about. What you need is a physician you trust to interpret for you. Good luck.

Homocysteine

I agree Radine. Thanks Dr Ben Kim for this article on something I knew nothing about (Homocysteine). Also, thanks for providing the preventative solutions.

hyperhomocysteinemia level

My homocysteine level is over 38... I deal with clotting and severe pain.

Elevated Homocysteine gene mutation...

This is from a LA Times article 6/9/11: researchers found strong associations with two gene mutations that had previously been linked to autism risk. One is the variant of the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene associated with less efficient metabolism of folic acid and increased blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine. The other was a variant of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene, which is also linked to increased levels of homocysteine.
My two daughters, my grandson and myself were tested for the gene mutation MTHFR and the test showed positive. My Grandson was diagnosed with Tourettes at age 10, but with nutrition seems to have out grown it, now 22. At age 15, He also was misdiagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma and part of chasing a correct diagnosis involved this gene test including any family members who were willing to participate. Final diagnosis was Chronic Osteomyletis (COM). At age 20, He also had to have his lungs scraped so the sacs would be stopped from filling with fluids. I must say his rebounds are amazing and he is smart, active, and compassionate.
Another Grandson, age 5, is on the Autism spectrum. We all have elevated HYC. We all take Folate & B vitamins. No further testing has been done (our doctors and insurance do not feel it is necessary...probably because there are no RX to fix the problem).
Lastly, certain diets can be appropriate for various blood types I am O+ and crave animal protein, which is okay for me, as well as most, but not all, veggies and fruits...not too many grains! Thank you for your wonderful informative articles. Carol

Homocysteine

Hi Dr. Kim, from my research even if you lower your level it doesn't change the higher risk of various health issues??? I'm a 31 year old women with chronic gastrointestinal issues. I just discovered by chance (b12 deficiency) that my homocysteine level is 26. I'm a vegetarian 95% of the time, I eat extremely healthy, no coffee at all, basically everything on your list besides the salt suggestion (POTS). Therefore I've come to the conclusion my levels must be genetic. Do you think you should still lower them with all of the information showing that it doesn't matter? Thank You.

 

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