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Betaine

Also listed as: Trimethylglycine
Table of Contents > Supplements > Betaine     Print

Overview
Dietary Sources
Available Forms
How to Take It
Precautions
Possible Interactions
Supporting Research

Overview

Betaine -- also called betaine anhydrous, or trimethylglycine (TMG) -- is a substance that's made in the body. It's involved in liver function, cellular reproduction, and helping make carnitine. It also helps the body metabolize an amino acid called homocysteine. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved betaine to treat a genetic condition where too much homocysteine builds up in the body.

Scientists have also proposed betaine as a way to lower homocysteine levels in people who don't have the genetic disease. This is because higher levels of homocysteine are associated with heart disease and stroke. But researchers don't yet know exactly how high levels of homocysteine and heart disease are related. It's unclear as to whether homocysteine itself is harmful, or whether it is just an indicator of increased risk for heart disease.

Heart Disease

Studies suggest that betaine, along with vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, helps reduce higher levels of homocysteine. Some studies show that high levels of homocysteine may encourage atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Betaine supplements may increase cholesterol levels, which could work against any treatment for heart disease. If you are at risk for heart disease, your doctor may test levels of homocysteine in your blood. Ask your doctor whether taking supplements of betaine, folic acid, and other B vitamins makes sense for you.

Homocystinuria

Some people have a genetic condition called homocystinuria, in which homocysteine levels build up in the body. They are at much higher risk of developing heart disease and osteoporosis as early as their 20s. Betaine supplements are used to lower levels of homocysteine in people with this inherited health condition.

Liver Disease

Studies in rats suggest that betaine may help protect against harmful fatty deposits in the liver. These deposits can be caused by alcohol abuse, obesity, diabetes, and other causes. Preliminary studies in people have shown similar results. More research is needed.

Dry Mouth

One study found that a toothpaste containing betaine helped relieve dry mouth.

Cancer

One study found that higher betaine intake protects against lung cancer by minimizing the adverse effects of smoking. A second suggests that betaine intake may lower the risk of breast cancer.

Dietary Sources

Food sources of betaine include:

  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Grains
  • Shellfish
  • Spinach

Available Forms

Betaine supplements are manufactured as a byproduct of sugar beet processing. They are available in powder, tablet, and capsule forms.

How to Take It

Pediatric

Betaine is not recommended for children unless prescribed by your child's doctor to treat homocystinuria, a genetic condition.

Adult

Recommended doses of betaine vary depending on the condition being treated. Ask your doctor to help you determine the right dose for you.

Betaine is usually taken with folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.

Precautions

Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, you should take dietary supplements only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.

Most side effects from betaine are mild and include diarrhea, stomach upset, and nausea.

Betaine can raise total cholesterol levels. People who are overweight, have heart disease, or are at risk for heart disease, should not take betaine without talking to their health care provider.

People with kidney disease should not take betaine.

Possible Interactions

In people with kidney disease, betaine may interfere with drugs taken to lower cholesterol levels in the blood.

Supporting Research

Abdelmalek MF, Angulo P, Jorgensen RA, Sylvestre PB, Lindor KD. Betaine, a promising new agent for patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis: results of a pilot study. Am J Gastroenterol. 2001;96(9):2711-2717.

Alfthan G, Tapani K, Nissinen K, et al. The effect of low doses of betaine on plasma homocysteine in healthy volunteers. Br J Nutr. 2004;92:665-669.

Atkinson W, Elmslie J, Lever M, Chambers ST, George PM. Dietary and supplementary betaine: acute effects on plasma betaine and homocysteine concentrations under standard and postmethionine load conditions in healthy male subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(3):577-585.

Angulo P, Lindor KD. Treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver: present and emerging therapies. Semin Liver Dis. 2001;21(1):81-88.

Barak AJ, Beckenhauer HC, Badkhsh S, Tuma DJ. The effect of betaine in reversing alcoholic steatosis. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1997;21(6):1100-1102.

Barak AJ, Beckenhauer HC, Tuma DJ. Betaine, ethanol, and the liver: a review. Alcohol. 1996; 13(4): 395-398.

Boushey CJ, et al. A quantitative assessment of plasma homocysteine as a risk factor for vascular disease. Probable benefits of increasing folic acid intakes. JAMA. Oct 4, 1995; 274(13): 1049-1057.

Eikelboom JW, Lonn E, Genest J, Hankey G, Yusuf S. Homocyst(e)ine and cardiovascular disease: a critical review of the epidemiologic evidence. Ann Intern Med. 1999;131:363-375.

Hanje AJ, Fortune B, Song M, Hill D, McClain C. The use of selected nutrition supplements and complementary and alternative medicine in liver disease. Nutr Clin Pract. 2006 Jun;21(3):255-272. Review.

Kanbak G, Arslan OC, Dokumacioglu A, Kartkaya K, Inal ME. Effects of chronic ethanol consumption on brain synaptosomes and protective role of betaine. Neurochem Res. 2008;33(3):539-544.

Kendler BS. Supplemental conditionally essential nutrients in cardiovascular disease therapy. Cardiovasc Nurs. 2006 Jan-Feb;21(1):9-16. Review.

Kishi T, et al. Effect of betaine on S-adenosylmethionine levels in the cerebrospinal fluid in a patient with methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency and peripheral neuropathy. J Inherit Metab Dis. 1994; 17(5): 560-565.

Malinow MR, Bostom AG, Krauss RM. Homocyst(e)ine, diet, and cardiovascular disease. A statement for healthcare professionals from the nutrition committee, American Heart Association. Circulation. 1999;99:178-182.

Miglio F, Rovati LC, Santoro A, Senikar I. Efficacy and safety of oral betaine glucuronate in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. A double-blind, randomized, parallel group, placebo-controlled prospective clinical study. Arzneimittelforschung. 2000;50(8):722-727.

Olthof MR, Bots ML, Katan MB, Verhoef P. Effect of folic acid and betaine supplementation on flow-mediated dilation: a randomized, controlled study in healthy volunteers. PLoS Clin Trials. 2006 Jun;1(2):e10.

Olthof MR, Van Vliet T, Boelsma E et al. Low dose betaine supplementation leads to immediate and long term lowering of plasma homocysteine in healthy men and women. J Nutr. 2003;133:4135-4138.

Olthof MR, Vliet TV, Verhoef P et al. Effect of homocysteine-lowering nutrients on blood lipids: results from four randomised, placebo-controlled studies in healthy humans. PLoS Med. 2005;2:e135.

Robinson K, Arheart K, Refsum H, et al. Low circulating folate and vitamin B6 concentrations. Risk factors for stroke, peripheral vascular disease, and coronary artery disease. Circulation. 1998;97:437-443.

Sarkar PK, Lambert LA. Aetiology and treatment of hyperhomocysteinaemia causing ischaemic stroke. Int J Clin Pract. 2001;55(4):262-268.

Schwab U, Torronen A, Toppinen L, et al. Betaine supplementation decreases plasma homocysteine concentrations but does not affect body weight, body composition, or resting energy expenditure in human subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;76:961-967.

Schwahn BC, Wang XL, Mikael LG, Wu Q, Cohn J, Jiang H, Maclean KN, Rozen R. Betaine supplementation improves the atherogenic risk factor profile in a transgenic mouse model of hyperhomocysteinemia. Atherosclerosis. 2007;195(2):e100-e107.

Soderling E, Le Bell A, Kirstila V, Tenovuo J. Betaine-containing toothpaste relieves subjective symptoms of dry mouth. Acta Odontol Scand. 1998;56:65-69.

Song Z, Deaciuc I, Zhou Z, Song M, Chen T, Hill D, McClain CJ. Involvement of AMP-activated protein kinase in beneficial effects of betaine on high-sucrose diet-induced hepatic stenosis. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2007;293(4):G894-G902.

Song Z, Zhou Z, Deaciuc I, Chen T, McClain CJ. Inhibition of adiponectin production by homocysteine: a potential mechanism for alcoholic liver disease. Hepatology. 2008;47(3):867-879.

Stampfer MJ, Malinow MR. Can lowering homocysteine levels reduce cardiovascular disease? N Engl J Med.1995; 332: 328-329.

van Guldener C, Stehouwer CD. Homocysteine-lowering treatment: an overview. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2001;2(9):1449-1460.

Wilcken DE, et al. Homocystinuria due to cystathione beta-synthase deficiency--the effects of betaine treatment in pyridoxine-responsive patients. Metabolism. 1985; 34(12): 1115-1121.

Ying J, Rahbar MH, Hallman DM et al. Associations between dietary intake of choline and betaine and lung cancer risk. PLoS One.  2013; 8(2):e54561.

Yonemori KM, Lim U, Koga KR, et al. Dietary choline and betaine intakes vary in an adult multiethnic population. J Nutr. 2013; 143(6):894-899.

Zeisel SH. Betaine supplementation and blood lipids: fact or artifact? Nutr Rev. 2006 Feb;64(2 Pt 1):77-79. Review.

Zhang CX, Pan MX, Li B, et al. Choline and betaine intake is inversely associated with breast cancer risk: a two-stage case-control study in China. Cancer Sci. 2013; 104(2):250-258.

Review Date: 7/6/2014
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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