What Gray Hair, Hearing Problems, and Poor Digestion Have to Do With Heart Problems

Steve Kroening, ND

March 18, 2020



Gray hair is just a sign of aging, right? Ditto with hearing problems. And those digestion issues, they’re just about food allergies and a poor diet, aren’t they? Well, maybe not.

Turns out, there are two nutrient deficiencies that can cause all of these problems, and worse.

You see, these two nutrients are so important, that not having enough could cause a host of health problems. In fact, a deficiency could spell serious heart trouble.

As you may know, you must do two things to avoid most heart trouble. You have to keep your vascular system free of blood clots, especially the arteries around the heart. And you need to keep your arteries soft and supple.

Hardened arteries occur when the arterial walls thicken because of a build-up of fatty materials. Many times, these two conditions go hand-in-hand. As the arterial walls thicken, they become more likely to clot. So keeping your arteries soft and supple is your priority. So how can you do that?

Well, medical science lays the blame for hard arteries at the feet of one particular amino acid – homocysteine. Studies show that high blood levels of homocysteine can double or triple your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Well, researchers from China recently published a study in the prestigious journal Atherosclerosis on a simple treatment for hardened arteries. The study focused on methods to lower homocysteine.

The researchers knew that other studies had pointed out how B vitamins lower homocysteine levels. And, according to those studies, one of the most effective is folic acid. So the researchers decided to look at 10 studies that included 2,052 people. Here’s what they found: Folic acid consistently provides powerful benefits for the heart – including softening of the arterial walls. The researchers made special note of the fact that the highest degree of protection came in the studies showing the greatest reduction in homocysteine.

The Problem With This Study

The researchers concluded that homocysteine is a direct cause of hardened arteries. However, I don’t agree. Their research didn’t prove cause and effect. What it did was show that folic acid lowers homocysteine. And it clearly softens hardened arteries as well.

Here’s why this important. Higher levels of homocysteine are present in several health challenges. In many of these, researchers blame homocysteine for the problem. But they can never prove a direct cause and effect. Just because high homocysteine levels are present, doesn’t mean it caused the problem. And, just because homocysteine comes down as the problem resolves, doesn’t mean it caused the problem either.

Consider this: What if the homocysteine goes up as a condition worsens as part of the body’s response to the condition? What if the body was using this amino acid to treat the condition?

In this study, the lower homocysteine correlated with softer arteries. But it’s still possible the folic acid addressed another underlying cause. It’s possible this cause pushed the body to create more homocysteine as a response. Then, when the folic acid addressed the cause, the homocysteine levels come down naturally. When the arteries soften, the body doesn’t need the amino acid as much, so homocysteine levels go down.

Regardless of whether the theory is correct or not, it’s clear that folic acid softens hardened arteries. But that’s not all they do. And, yes, it all revolves around homocysteine and your heart.

What Your Ears Have to Do With Your Heart

Over 43 years ago, Dr. Sanders T. Frank wrote an article to the New England Journal of Medicine about a strange connection between your ears and your heart. He said that your earlobe can tell you how high your risk of coronary artery disease is.

Apparently, Dr. Frank noticed that a "normal" earlobe is smooth. But an earlobe with a crease (a fold, straight line, or wrinkle that appears to cut the earlobe in half) indicates you may have diseased arteries. Over time, this crease developed the name "Frank's sign" after the letter writer.

In the years since the NEJM published the letter, some studies have shown that Dr. Frank was onto something. Some of them even found a strong correlation. However, others say the correlation isn't always true. It could be an ethnic issue, as it seems to hold true more often for white people than Asians or Hawaiians (two of the studies that didn't find a correlation). But it's quite possible these two ethnic groups have something in their diet that protects their heart.

You see, there's a much bigger connection between your ears and your heart than the crease in your earlobe. This connection suggests that if you're losing your hearing, you might want to make sure your heart’s in good shape.

Scientists have connected high homocysteine levels with heart problems for years. At this point, they’ve only proved an association – it's present when heart problems occur – but we don't know if it causes the heart problems.

Well, other studies have shown that high homocysteine levels are also associated with age-related hearing loss. The higher your homocysteine levels, the more likely you are to suffer hearing loss. Again, we don't know for sure if the high homocysteine levels are a cause of the hearing loss or simply the body's way of trying to prevent the hearing loss. If the body uses homocysteine to heal, then it would make sense that it's elevated.

Regardless, we know that high homocysteine levels are a signal that something could be wrong with both your hearing and your heart. What's great about this is there's an easy way to reduce the homocysteine and protect both your heart and your hearing. Researchers are finally coming around to agree that nutritional imbalances can cause hearing loss. In fact, they're finding significant evidence that taking supplements can help you avoid losing your hearing. The most recent study looked at epidemiologic studies and found that one nutrient in particular can help stop hearing loss.

The researchers in this study knew that a substantial number of epidemiologic studies linked hearing loss to high homocysteine levels and low levels of folate. They also knew that taking folate in supplement form both lowered homocysteine levels and improved age-related hearing loss. So they wanted to see what impact taking a folate supplement would have on hearing loss.

The researchers said, "Altogether, our findings demonstrate, for the first time, that the relationship between hyperhomocysteinemia induced by folate deficiency and premature hearing loss involves impairment of cochlear Hcy metabolism and associated oxidative stress." In other words, a folate deficiency can increase your homocysteine and cause damage to the auditory portion of your inner ear.

So if you're losing your hearing, whether you have a crease in your earlobe or not, it would be a good idea to have your homocysteine levels checked. Whether high homocysteine levels are the cause of the problem or not, it’s still a good indicator that you’re deficient in folic acid. So if they're high, you'll want to start taking folic acid right away.

What About Gray Hair

What’s interesting about a folic acid deficiency is that it doesn’t usually occur by itself. In other words, if you’re deficient in folic acid, you’re probably deficient in another vitamin – vitamin B12. Both are B vitamins (folic acid is vitamin B9). And deficiencies in B vitamins often go together.

Vitamin B12 is called "the energy vitamin" for good reason. It helps your body turn the foods you eat into energy. And it creates this energy for your cells to function. When your cells don't have enough energy, they begin to struggle to function properly. That's why a B12 deficiency can cause lack of energy, extreme tiredness without any reason, becoming breathless, memory loss, brain fog, and cognitive decline, as well as mood changes, irritability, depression, confusion, and disorientation.

Since B12 plays a big role in cell energy, low levels can affect your hair. As the cells in your hair lose energy, you may experience premature graying and significant hair loss.

As you might imagine, growing hair requires your cells to divide. For cells to divide, they require significant amounts of energy. If your cells don't have enough energy, your hair growth may slow. Or it may thin considerably. Or it may start to fall out. The good news is that this can be reversed. All you have to do is supply your body with ample vitamin B12. When you do, your hair cells can start to divide again, restoring hair growth - even in areas where growth may have stopped.

But here's where your hair can signal big problems. What you may not realize, is that your hair turning gray could have significant implications for your heart. You may have heard that high homocysteine levels are bad for your heart. Homocysteine is an amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. When these proteins break down, you'll find elevated levels of homocysteine in the bloodstream. This can lead to atherosclerosis, blood clots, and heart attacks.

But high homocysteine levels also can cause your hair to turn gray. That's because homocysteine generates hydrogen peroxide. And this peroxide literally bleaches the hair from the inside out. One reason your homocysteine levels skyrocket is because you don't have enough vitamin B12 in your body.

What's amazing is that you can reverse this process. All you have to do is take vitamin B12. This will lower your homocysteine, eliminate the peroxide and bleaching process, and allow your hair to return to its normal color.

Now, if something else is turning your hair gray, this may not work. But for many people, B12 is all you need to restore your hair to its normal color and health.

Other Problems Caused by B12 and Folic Acid Deficiencies

Having your homocysteine levels checked is important for a few reasons. Obviously, if your hair is turning gray or your hearing is not as keen as it used to be, reversing the problem could be as simple as taking folic acid and/or vitamin B12.

But these aren’t the only problems associated with elevated homocysteine levels. Other problems that seem to go along with high homocysteine include poor immune function; chronic low energy; poor digestion; other digestive issues, including constipation and bloating; stunted growth; anemia; canker sores in the mouth and a tender, swollen tongue; mood swings and irritability.

So if your digestion is out of whack or you’re experiencing any of these other issues, ask your doctor to check your homocysteine levels. Or you could just improve your B12 and folic acid levels and see if the problem goes away. If it does, you can assume your homocysteine levels were high too.

You can get B12 shots from many doctors. This is the fastest and surest way to restore your B12 levels. But you also can take B12 sublingual tablets. Sublingual tablets are quickly absorbed and will work very effectively. Plus, they're easier to use and less expensive than the shots.

The typical dose of folic acid is 500 mcg daily. This is a good dose for prevention. If you already have cardiovascular issues, you may want to take additional folic acid. The researchers in the studies mentioned here suggest taking up to 5 mg daily.

One final note: While some issues can respond relatively quickly to supplementation, other issues, such as hard arteries, can take up to 18 months to see the greatest benefit. So give the folic acid time to work.

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