Betaine is a nutrient that plays an important role in the health of the
cardiovascular system. Studies have suggested that betaine, along with other
nutrients, helps to reduce potentially toxic levels of homocysteine (Hcy), a
naturally occurring amino acid that can be harmful to blood vessels thereby
contributing to the development of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral
vascular disease (reduced blood flow to the legs and feet).
Betaine functions closely with other nutrients -- namely,
S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), folic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12 -- to break
down Hcy and reduce toxic levels of this substance in the bloodstream. When
betaine, or any of these related nutrients, becomes low in the body, Hcy levels
may rise. Some people have a genetic condition called "homocystinuria," in which
Hcy levels accumulate in the body. Betaine supplements are used to lower levels
of Hcy in people with this inherited health condition.
Heart Disease and Stroke
Betaine may contribute to the lowering of Hcy, a substance recognized as a
significant risk factor for atherosclerosis and blood clots in the walls of
blood vessels, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. The American Heart
Association does not currently recommend population-wide Hcy screening, and
suggests that obtaining appropriate amounts of betaine, as well as folic acid
and vitamins B6 and B12, be met through diet alone. Individuals at high risk for
developing heart disease, however, may be screened for blood levels of
homocysteine. If elevated levels are detected, a healthcare practitioner may
recommend supplementation in addition to dietary changes.
Studies with rats have suggested that betaine may help protect against fatty
deposits in the liver, which can occur from chronic alcohol use, protein
malnutrition, obesity, poorly controlled diabetes, and other causes. A few
studies on people have also been conducted. In one preliminary study, 10 people
with fatty liver disease from causes other than alcohol received betaine for up
to one year. All of the participants had improvement in liver function tests and
a reduced amount of fat and other changes in the liver itself. In another
larger, better-designed study that took place in Italy, nearly 200 patients
received either betaine, in combination with two other substances, or a placebo.
Those who received the betaine combination supplement had improved liver
function, reduced fat in the liver, and diminished abdominal pain. Further
research is needed to confirm these findings and to see whether it is the
betaine that is specifically responsible for the benefit to the liver.
Hypochlorhydria (abnormally low levels of stomach acid)
Betaine is also used to increase the concentration of acids in the stomach.
Dietary sources of betaine include beets, broccoli, and spinach.
Interestingly, many wines contain betaine, particularly less expensive wines
that use beet sugar to increase the alcohol content. Some experts suggest that
this may be part of the so-called "French paradox," in which wine drinkers from
France tend to have low rates of heart disease despite diets high in fat and
Betaine supplements are manufactured as a byproduct of sugar beet processing.
They are available in powder, tablet, and capsule forms.
How to Take It
There are no known scientific reports on the pediatric use of betaine.
Therefore, it is not currently recommended for children.
Recommended doses of betaine vary depending on the health condition being
treated. The following list provides guidelines for the most common
Heart disease and stroke prevention or treatment: 500 to 1,000 mg per
Homocystinuria: 6 g per day
Hypochlorhydria: take with each meal according to product label
It is generally recommended that betaine be taken in conjunction with folic
acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications,
dietary supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a
knowledgeable healthcare provider.
There are no known scientific reports of interactions between betaine and
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Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Ruth DeBusk, RD, PhD, Editor,
Nutrition in Complementary Care, Tallahassee, FL; Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University
and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh
(Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, Ma; Steven
Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's
Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH. All interaction sections have also
been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The
Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000),
Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March
2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy;
President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH,
MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative
Medicine, Honolulu, HI.
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