Definitive guide to benefits of betaine
DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO BETAINE AT A GLANCE
♦ BETAINE can help cut the risk of heart attacks
♦ BETAINE can reduce the risk of cancer – especially when combined with optimum B complex vitamins
♦ BETAINE can improve digestion
♦ BETAINE can help reduce anxiety
Chances are you have never heard of betaine before, although it is well known to cardiologists, because it improves heart health.
Betaine can help reduce heart attack risk – the homocysteine connection
For a long time, heart health researchers had concentrated on high cholesterol levels as a key factor in heart disease. But they were puzzled that almost half of heart attack patients had normal cholesterol levels. So, what else could be the trigger?
Tests began to suggest that high levels of homocysteine in the blood – especially in older people – might be a critical factor.
Homocysteine is an amino acid that the body produces naturally, but excess levels can damage the walls of blood vessels and arteries and lead to the build up of plaque and clogged and narrowed arteries – ie. atherosclerosis.
Researchers then discovered that betaine – especially in combination with folic acid and B6 and B12 vitamins – could lower homocysteine levels and therefore cut the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
The principal study on betaine in the Journal of Nutrition (referenced below) confirms that:
“Homocysteine is an independent cardiovascular disease risk factor modifiable by nutrition and exercise. However, it is now widely accepted that food sources alone cannot consistently supply the levels of nutrients necessary to sustain optimal homocysteine metabolism”.
Betaine for improved digestion
If acid levels are too low, your stomach cannot completely break down the food you eat to enable you to absorb its nutrients. The result can be nutritional deficiencies, which increase the risk of many diseases.
The principal acid in your stomach is hydrochloric acid, which is why the version of betaine that’s linked to hydrochloric acid (betaine hydrochloride) is preferred in a supplement. It can help raise acid levels in the stomach and alleviate gastrointestinal issues – especially if it is accompanied by an effective probiotic to further increase nutrient absorption.
How betaine works – gene expression via methyl groups
Don’t miss this bit! – because it also explains why betaine can switch off genes that can harm your health or activate genes that can reduce your risk of cancer.
Betaine is rich in a special group of carbon and hydrogen molecules called methyl groups. Methyl groups are essential to a process called methylation – where methyl gets attached to part of a DNA sequence (or protein) and can change the activity of that DNA segment, a process called gene expression.
So a methyl group can help turn a gene on or off. Betaine is one of a number of nutrients that can do that, so it is called a methyl donor. It donates its methyl to that bit of DNA to alter how the gene is expressed.
So if your diet has inadequate methyl groups, your internal process of methylation is sub-par and a gene can get incorrectly activated, which can lead to cells mutating and turning cancerous.
Indeed, a report in the prestigious Nature Education confirms that:
Researchers have linked “… errors in methylation to a variety of devastating consequences, including several human diseases.”
Betaine isn’t the only methyl donor, B vitamins are too – especially folic acid, B2, B6 and B12. And magnesium and zinc contribute.
Role of methyl groups in cancer risk reduction
In 2017 Medical Science News reported what they described as a ‘stunning’ breakthrough:
“For the first time, researchers from the Leibniz Institute on Aging in Jena, Germany, verified that a lack of methyl groups in the gene body leads to an incorrect gene activation and, as a consequence, may lead to the emergence of cancer.”
The researchers explained that “… during aging as well as during the development of age-induced diseases like cancer, the activation of genetic information is increasingly defective.”
They then propose that the addition of methyl groups could help prevent this process.
This strongly suggests that any supplementation regime that aims to reduce the risk of cancer – or indeed slow ageing – should include methyl group donors, particularly betaine and optimum levels of B complex including folic acid.
Foods that contain methyl groups include leafy green vegetables, fish and eggs.
Betaine improves liver function and can help alleviate fatty liver disease
At far higher levels that would be needed in a heart health supplement or for improved digestion – which is about 400-500mg a day – there is evidence that betaine can help treat this condition. But the indicated dose is 1,000mg three times a day.
High dose betaine improves endurance – and may improve body composition
Three separate studies reporting in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition have tested betaine as a supplement to improve endurance. The latest (2013) reported that:
“The major findings of the present study are that 6 weeks of betaine supplementation improved body composition, muscle size, work capacity, … tended to improve power, but not strength in resistance-trained men”.
So the findings for the gym use of betaine are positive, but it should be noted that the study participants (young, recreationally strength-trained males) were taking betaine at a level of 2 x 1.25 grams a day or a total of 2.5g.
Betaine is safe at this level, but it’s probably not a use that would much interest the average person. Nevertheless, betaine consistently taken as part of a daily supplement at a level of 450mg a day should have some positive effect on endurance levels, especially as we get older.
Betaine in foods and supplements
The main food sources of betaine are spinach, beets eg. beetroot and whole wheat products. One of the few comprehensive supplements to include betaine is NutriShield Premium, a daily comprehensive supplement containing 43 nutrients, designed by Dr Paul Clayton, former Chair of the Forum on Food and Health at the Royal Society of Medicine.
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Dr Paul Clayton designed NutriShield as a comprehensive health supplement with OPTIMUM levels of 43 essential nutrients including polyphenols and flavonoids from fruits, vegetables and other plants, Omega 3, CoQ10, betaine and soy isoflavones. See more detail elsewhere on this site or click on the button.
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See online here for delicious recipes from the Health Defence Cookbook incorporating healthy foods featuring in a Mediterranean Diet.
Low Dose Betaine Supplementation Leads to Immediate and Long Term Lowering of Plasma Homocysteine in Healthy Men and Women; Margreet R. Olthof, Trinette van Vliet, Esther Boelsma, Petra Verhoef; The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 133, Issue 12, 1 December 2003,
Role of homocysteine in the development of cardiovascular disease; Paul Ganguly and Sreyoshi Fatima Alam; Nutr J. 2015; 14: 6.
Betaine, a promising new agent for patients with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis: results of a pilot study. Abdelmalek MF, Angulo P, Jorgensen RA, Sylvestre PB, Lindor KD; Am J Gastroenterol. 2001 Sep;96(9):2711-7.
Gastric Re-acidification with Betaine HCl in Healthy Volunteers with Rabeprazole-Induced Hypochlorhydria; Marc Anthony R. Yago; Mol Pharm. 2013 Nov 4; 10(11): 4032–4037.
Ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation on strength and power performance; Lee EC, Maresh CM; J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Jul 19;7:27.
Effect of betaine supplementation on power performance and fatigue. Hoffman JR, J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009 Feb 27;6:7.
Effects of betaine on body composition, performance, and homocysteine thiolactone. Jason M Cholewa, et al; Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013.
DNA Methylation and Its Basic Function; Lisa D Moore, Thuc Le and Guoping Fan; Neuropsychopharmacology; v.38(1); 2013 Jan.
DNA methylation and cancer. Kulis M, Esteller M: Adv Genet. 2010;70:27-56. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-380866-0.60002-2.
The role of DNA methylation in ageing, rejuvenation and age-related disease. Johnson AA, Akman K, Calimport SRG, et al. Rejuvenation Res 2012;15(5):483-494.