Cardiovascular Health Nutrient
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 reduce potentially toxic levels of homocysteine (Hcy). Homocysteine is 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), 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 condition.
Betaine and Inflammation
This nutrient may help reduce high blood levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is a potentially harmful amino acid that irritates the lining of blood vessels, causing inflammation. In a Greek study dubbed ATTICA, researchers found that participants with the highest betaine intakes had the lowest levels of inflammatory markers, including homocysteine, C-reactive protein (CRP) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF).
Specifically, study participants who took in more than 360 milligrams a day of betaine averaged 10 percent lower homocysteine levels, 19 percent lower CRP and 12 percent lower TNF than those who got less than 260 milligrams a day. There is no recommended dietary allowance for betaine.
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.
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 cholesterol.
Betaine supplements are manufactured as a byproduct of sugar beet processing. They are available in powder, tablet, and capsule forms. 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 uses:
- Heart disease and stroke prevention or treatment: 500 to 1,000 mg per day.
- Homocystinuria: 6 g per day.
- Hypochlorhydria: take with each meal according to product label directions.
There are no known scientific reports of interactions between betaine and conventional medications.
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