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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Betaine (Trimethylglycine)
Betaine (trimethylglycine) functions very closely with choline,folic acid, vitamin B12, and a form of the amino acid methionine known as
S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe).1, 2 All of these compounds
function as "methyl donors." They carry and donate methyl molecules to
facilitate necessary chemical processes. The donation of methyl groups by
betaine is very important to proper liver function, cellular replication, and
detoxification reactions. Betaine also plays a role in the manufacture of carnitine and serves to protect the kidneys from damage.3 Betaine is closely related to choline. The difference is that
choline (tetramethylglycine) has four methyl groups attached to it. When choline
donates one of these groups to another molecule, it becomes betaine (trimethylglycine).
If betaine donates one of its methyl groups, then it becomes dimethylglycine.
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In a preliminary trial, supplementation with betaine (20 grams per day) for 12 months improved signs of liver inflammation in seven patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a type of liver inflammation. No significant side effects were seen.
Betaine (trimethylglycine) (6 grams per day) and choline (2 grams per day) have each been shown to lower homocysteine levels. Choline in the amount of 2.6 grams per day (provided as 34 grams per day of soy lecithin) has also been shown to lower homocysteine levels in a double-blind trial. More recently, 1.5 grams of betaine per day, an amount similar to that in a typical diet, also has been found to lower homocysteine levels. Doctors usually consider supplementation with these nutrients only when supplementation with folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 do not reduce homocysteine levels sufficiently. The results of this study, however, point to the potential benefit of increasing one's intake of foods rich in betaine (such as whole wheat, spinach, beets, and other plant foods).
Blood levels of an amino acid called homocysteine have been linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease in most research, though uncertainty remains about whether elevated homocysteine actually causes heart disease. Although some reports have found associations between homocysteine levels and dietary factors, such as coffee and protein intakes, evidence linking specific foods to homocysteine remains preliminary. Higher blood levels of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid are associated with low levels of homocysteine and supplementing with these vitamins lowers homocysteine levels.
For the few cases in which vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid fail to normalize homocysteine, adding 6 grams per day of betaine (trimethylglycine) may be effective. Of these four supplements, folic acid appears to be the most important. Attempts to lower homocysteine by simply changing the diet rather than by using vitamin supplements have not been successful.
For people with alcohol-induced fatty liver, the recommended amount for betaine citrate or betaine aspartate supplementation is 1,000 to 2,000 mg three times daily. Lower amounts are often used as nutritional support for general liver health, although use of betaine in this manner has not undergone clinical research.
Dietary sources of betaine include fish, beets, and legumes. Betaine is most widely available as betaine hydrochloride (betaine-HCl), but that form is used primarily as a source of hydrochloric acid for people with hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid). The forms used specifically to provide betaine are betaine citrate and betaine aspartate. These forms have also been used to improve liver function.
Betaine is not an essential nutrient, and thus no deficiency state exists.
1. Selhub J. Homocysteine metabolism. Annu Rev Nutr 1999;19:217-46 [review].
2. Barak AJ, Tuma DJ. Betaine, metabolic by-product or vital methylating agent? Life Sci 1983;32:771-4 [review].
3. Chambers ST. Betaines: their significance for bacteria and the renal tract. Clin Sci 1995;88:25-7 [review].
Last Review: 03-24-2015
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