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J Inherit Metab Dis. 2011 Feb;34(1):93-9. doi: 10.1007/s10545-010-9151-1. Epub 2010 Jun 22.

The homocysteine controversy.

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Internal Medicine and Institute for Cardiovascular Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Mild to moderate hyperhomocysteinemia has been identified as a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease, independent from classical atherothrombotic risk factors. In the last decade, a number of large intervention trials using B vitamins have been performed and have shown no benefit of homocysteine-lowering therapy in high-risk patients. In addition, Mendelian randomization studies failed to convincingly demonstrate that a genetic polymorphism commonly associated with higher homocysteine levels (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase 677 C>T) is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Together, these findings have cast doubt on the role of homocysteine in cardiovascular disease pathogenesis, and the homocysteine hypothesis has turned into a homocysteine controversy. In this review, we attempt to find solutions to this controversy. First, we explain that the Mendelian randomization analyses have limitations that preclude final conclusions. Second, several characteristics of intervention trials limit interpretation and generalizability of their results. Finally, the possibility that homocysteine lowering is in itself beneficial but is offset by adverse side effects of B vitamins on atherosclerosis deserves serious attention. As we explain, such side effects may relate to direct adverse effects of the B-vitamin regimen (in particular, the use of high-dose folic acid) or to proinflammatory and proproliferative effects of B vitamins on advanced atherosclerotic lesions.

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