Luglio Agosto 2021

The link between homocysteine, folic acid and vitamin B12 in chronic kidney disease


Patients with chronic kidney disease or end-stage renal disease experience tremendous cardiovascular risk. Cardiovascular events are the leading causes of death in these patient populations, thus the interest in non-traditional risk factors such as hyperhomocysteinemia, folic acid and vitamin B12 metabolism is growing.  Hyperhomocysteinemia is commonly found in CKD patients because of impaired renal metabolism and reduced renal excretion. Folic acid, the synthetic form of vitamin B9, is critical in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine like vitamin B12. Folic acid has also been shown to improve endothelial function without lowering homocysteine, suggesting an alternative explanation for the effect of folic acid on endothelial function. Whether hyperhomocysteinemia represents a reliable marker of cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular mortality or a therapeutic target in this population remains unclear. However, it is reasonable to consider folic acid with or without methylcobalamin supplementation as appropriate adjunctive therapy in patients with CKD. The purpose of this review is to summarize the characteristics of homocysteine, folic acid, and vitamin B12 metabolism, the mechanism of vascular damage, and the outcome of vitamin supplementation on hyperhomocysteinemia in patients with CKD, ESRD, dialysis treatment, and in kidney transplant recipients.

Keywords: hyperhomocysteinemia, folic acid, vitamin B12, chronic kidney disease, end-stage renal disease, cardiovascular disease

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Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) represents an important economic burden for health systems around the world, with an estimated global prevalence of between 11 and 13%. Rationalized measures are needed to slow the progression to end-stage kidney disease (ESRD) and to decrease cardiovascular mortality [1]. Mortality rates remain in fact above 20% per year with the use of dialysis, with more than half of all deaths related to cardiovascular disease [2]. The problem of peripheral arteries disease (PAD) is also emerging, which is more common in patients with CKD and is associated with lower limb amputations and increased mortality [3].

Traditional factors such as hypertension, dyslipidaemia and diabetes mellitus are not sufficient to explain the dramatically increased cardiovascular risk in the population with CKD/ESRD. Thus, much attention shifted to other less studied aspects of CKD such as oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction, chronic inflammation, vascular calcification in chronic kidney disease-mineral and bone disorder (CKD-MBD) and finally hyperhomocysteinemia (HHcy) [4].

The latter, since its discovery, proved to be a plausible risk factor for the development of atherosclerotic vascular disease processes leading to cardiovascular disease (CVD) and stroke. Levels of homocysteine (Hcy) higher than 20.0 μmol/L are associated with mortality 4.5 times higher. The “homocysteine hypothesis” is supported by the fact that subjects with problems in the enzymatic pathway of homocysteine metabolism have a higher level of homocysteine than the general population and a faster progression of arteriosclerosis. Therefore, the link between cardiovascular mortality and arteriosclerosis has been the subject of debate with conflicting results [5].


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