Everything You Need to Know About Betaine
Betaine has caught the attention of the public in recent years — and for good reason. Although it has long been associated with positive heart health, it is now gaining interest within the athletic and natural health community.
What Is Betaine and Why Does It Matter?
As the name suggests, betaine (trimethylglycine) is an amino acid found in beets. However, it can also be obtained from food sources such as quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, and spinach. Offering your body a wide range of health benefits, betaine is composed of glycine, an amino acid, attached to three methyl groups.
Although betaine influences a number of functions within the body, it mainly acts as a methyl donor and as an osmolyte. This means that it takes part in a critical process known as methylation all while promoting fluid balance inside and outside cells.
These processes are fairly complex. However, you may want to take a betaine supplement if you are interested in enhancing your heart health, improving digestion, or increasing athletic performance (mainly in terms of gaining muscle mass).
The Health Benefits Associated with Betaine
Betaine is a compound that supports a wide range of functions and processes. From your liver to your heart, kidneys to your brain, betaine helps protect your cells and as discussed, acts as a critical source of methyl groups.
1. Digestive Aid
Healthy digestion is critical for your well-being, ensuring that food is properly broken down into key nutrients which are then used for growth, energy, and cell repair.
Since betaine has been shown to support those living with hypochlorhydria — meaning they have a deficiency of stomach acid, it is of particular interest to researchers who specialize in digestive issues. Unfortunately, if your stomach acid levels are low, you will not be able to break down your food in a manner that allows you to maximize nutrient absorption. In turn, this increases your risk of key deficiencies and as a result, a higher risk of related diseases.
To remedy this issue, you could take a form of betaine that is attached to hydrochloric acid, which is known as betaine HCI. Not only is this treatment option effective, but it is also well-tolerated.
2. Positive Heart Health
Betaine has long been a key area of interest in regards to positive heart health. This is due to the way in which it influences homocysteine levels in your blood. Once again, this relates to the way in which betaine donates one of its methyl groups, converting homocysteine (an amino acid linked to early development of heart disease) into a harmless substance known as methionine.
By reducing the amount of homocysteine circulating in your blood, this will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. More specifically, higher levels of homocysteine have been linked to atherosclerosis, which is essentially the hardening of arteries. Vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid have also shown to offer a supportive role.
In this 2013 study, the researchers studied healthy volunteers in regards to betaine supplementation and their corresponding homocysteine levels. It was concluded that when supplementing at least 4g/day of betaine for a minimum of six weeks, plasma homocysteine levels were effectively reduced. In fact, studies have shown that when given 6g/day of betaine, plasma homocysteine concentrations can decline by as much as 5 to 20 percent.
3. Enhanced Liver Function
There are a number of conditions and disorders that would cause fatty acids to accumulate in the liver, including alcoholism, diabetes, and obesity. Some fat in the liver is normal. However, when too much fat begins to accumulate, this can lead to significant health problems.
Now affecting around 25 to 30 percent of the population in the United States and throughout Europe, it’s imperative that you take a proactive approach. This is where betaine comes into, as it has been shown to help the liver break down fatty acids.
For example, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFL) is often associated with diabetes and insulin resistance. In a 2010 study, the researchers were interested in whether or not betaine treatment would prevent or treat NAFL in mice. In comparison to the control mice, those who were given betaine showcased a reduction in fasting glucose, hepatic fat, insulin, and triglycerides. It was concluded that betaine prevents and treats fatty liver in a moderate high-dietary-fat model in mice.
4. Supports Muscle Mass and Weight Loss
If you’re an athlete, then you’re likely already taking certain supplements to support your performance levels and recovery. For those interested in gaining muscle mass, betaine can support your efforts.
As stated in this study, six weeks of betaine supplementation improved arm size, bench press work capacity, body composition, power, and reduced the rise in urinary HCTL — or homocysteine thiolactone. The men in this study also experienced significant increases in lean mass and a decrease in overall body fat.
5. Offers Antioxidants Properties
Oxidative stress is essentially an imbalance between the concentration of free radicals in your body and your body’s ability to counteract their damaging effects. Unfortunately, this can lead to a wide range of chronic diseases, including cancer, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.
Betaine has long been studied in regards to its antioxidant properties and overall impact on human health. In this 2016 study, the researchers stated that the methyl groups associated with betaine may play a key role in regards to its antioxidant activity. They concluded that betaine enhanced antioxidant defenses, forming a protective membrane around cells.
Should I Be Taking a Betaine Supplement?
Although betaine is certainly beneficial, supporting a wide range of bodily functions, this is not exactly a black and white answer.
While a betaine deficiency is not common throughout the Western world, if you consume a diet that is low in betaine, you may experience higher than normal levels of homocysteine in your blood. More often than not, this is an issue is apparent in populations that are 50 years old and above. Certain genetic predispositions and a history of alcoholism also impact your risk of high homocysteine levels.
You may also be someone who suffers from an underlying condition, which would be greatly benefited by taking a quality source of betaine. For example, if you are someone who suffers from acid reflux, betaine HCI has been found to be among the top natural remedies.
This means that whether or not you take a betaine supplement (and how much you take), will depend on what it is you’re taking doses of betaine for (i.e. to enhance physical performance or to treat poor digestion).
Although it’s important to discuss your personal needs with your physician, those who suffer from alcohol-induced fatty liver disease are typically encouraged to take between 1,000 and 2,000 mg, three times daily. This is considered to be a high dose but is what’s required to support liver damage repair. Those who prefer nutritional support will often take lower doses.
Betaine is an amino acid that supports a wide range of health-boosting functions. Whether you want to build more muscle mass or reduce your risk of heart disease, understanding your body’s needs is the first critical step.
In order to ensure your body and mind are getting all of the nutrients and support they require, it’s imperative that you focus on your lifestyle as a whole. Diet, exercise, and stress management are all important, while quality supplements will help fill the gaps. This is particularly true in regards to a multivitamin — one that includes ingredients that have been thoroughly researched based on their health-boosting capabilities.
If you’re wondering what to look for when choosing a multivitamin, this guide is a great starting point.
To support you along your journey, be sure to follow along, as our Journal offers resources and guides that will help you take back control of your health and future. Now is the time to take action — caring for your body and mind before illness has a chance to develop.
After all, Thomas Fuller said it best, “Health is not valued till sickness comes.” Value your health today, ensuring a positive future for years to come.