Our continued evolution into an increasingly health-conscious society has catapulted the natural health industry to heights never before seen. In our quest to combat the toxic byproducts and effects of our modernized society, we have turned back to nature and its remedies. This repositioning has spurred unprecedented research into how our body works and the components therein that ensure proper functioning. We are looking back to nature to aid in fighting off the effects of the unnatural things we have introduced into our environment and consequently, into our bodies.
We know more now than we ever have, and we’re still at just the tip of the iceberg. There are many compounds that we are just beginning to thoroughly research, study and understand. One of those is betaine. Although betaine was first discovered in the 19th century, we are now beginning to delve deeply into the critical and multi-faceted role it plays in our bodies.
Betaine has long been studied for its positive impact on heart health, but now we are thoroughly exploring ever expanding benefits, such as digestive support and the improvement of exercise performance and body composition. Betaine is on the cusp of a breakthrough into the mainstream natural health channel.
What is Betaine?
Betaine is a naturally occurring amino acid compound also known as trimethylglycine, or TMG. Betaine is a nonessential nutrient found in numerous food sources, including sugar beets, wheat bran, rye grain, bulgar grain, spinach, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, turkey breast, beef, veal and some seafood, such as shrimp. It was originally discovered in beets, which is where the name betaine is derived from.
Betaine is composed of the amino acid glycine which is attached to three methyl groups. There are two major functions that betaine undertakes in the body. It acts as a methyl donor and also as an osmolyte. Betaine is rich in methyl groups. A methyl group is a special kind of hydrogen and carbon molecule that can be transferred around the body via a process known as methylation. This process is a critical component of numerous physiological processes, including protein function and genetic activities. Betaine is known as a “methyl donor,” because it has so many of these methyl groups to distribute around the body. Additionally, betaine is an osmolyte. An osmolyte is a compound that affects the process of osmosis by creating fluid level balance outside and inside of cells. The consequence of imbalanced fluid levels can be cellular rupture or cellular shrinkage, dependent upon whether there’s excess fluid on the inside or the outside of the cell. Severe imbalance can ultimately cause the cell to die.
The health benefits of betaine are numerous. Evidence increasingly shows that betaine is a critical nutrient in protecting and enhancing the function of internal organs and improving vascular risk metrics. It may also aid with digestive function, heart health, liver function and detoxification, fat loss, and muscle mass improvement.
In order to digest food, your stomach must have adequate acid levels. Without sufficient acid levels, the food you eat will not be entirely broken down, which means that you will be unable to absorb all the nutrients provided by your food. Consequently, insufficient acid levels (called Hypochlorhydria) can lead to nutritional deficiencies which, in turn, may put you at an increased risk of developing a variety of health and hormone issues.
The acid that carries the biggest workload in the digestive process is hydrochloric acid or HCl. Without enough HCl in your stomach, you will suffer from digestive dysfunction. If you are over 50, the chance that you are not producing enough hydrochloric acid stands at around 50%. Luckily, there is a compound of betaine that is frequently used to aid this digestive issue. Betaine hydrochloride is a compound that consists of betaine and hydrochloride and is naturally found in beets. The most popular composition of betaine supplements is betaine HCl. When taken as a digestive supplement, betaine HCl (hydrochloride) promotes production of additional hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which aids digestion. It assists in the absorption of B12, calcium, iron and proteins. It is also thought to prevent fungi and bacteria from overproducing by ensuring that you have adequate levels of acid to kill them. People who suffer from candida (yeast overgrowth) often have a low level of stomach acid.
The symptoms of low stomach acid often mirror those of high stomach acid, so it’s important to be tested in order to determine if betaine HCl supplementation could be helpful for you. Betaine HCl supplementation should be avoided by people who have peptic ulcers. Hydrochloric acid could also be detrimental to a person with severe atrophic gastritis or inflammation along the stomach wall.
The most extensively researched health benefit of betaine is its cardiovascular affect. The primary way in which betaine may safeguard heart health is by reducing levels of the amino acid homocysteine within the bloodstream. It does this by providing the homocysteine molecule with one of its methyl groups; this, in turn, transforms it into an innocuous substance called methionine. Elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood (known as Homocystinuria) can clog and harden arteries by creating arterial plaque, which can contribute to cardiovascular health issues. Betaine’s effectiveness has warranted FDA approval for use as a treatment for high homocysteine levels.
Liver Function Support and Detoxification
Betaine may also support healthy liver function and liver detoxification. There are many conditions that can result in excessive fatty acid build up in the liver. Some of these conditions include obesity, a diet rich in fatty, sugary foods, diabetes and alcohol abuse. It is difficult for your liver to function properly when you have too much fat in the liver cells. A liver burdened with too much fat can result in scarring of the liver, fluid retention, muscle waste, cardiovascular issues and abdominal pain. Research has indicated that betaine can help break down fatty acids in the liver, and it has also been shown to aid people in recovering from damage to the liver. Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that betaine may protect the liver from hepatotoxins like carbon tetrachloride and ethanol. These dangerous toxic chemicals have been found to access the body through certain prescription medications and also via herbicides and pesticides used on crops that we end up consuming. It is possible that betaine aids the liver in processing these harmful chemicals and eliminating them from the body.
Muscle Mass Improvement and Fat Loss
Betaine is also a popular newcomer to the physical fitness and exercise supplements category, because it plays a critical role in fat reduction and the metabolizing of protein. You’ll likely find betaine in many pre-workout and “muscle building” supplements on the market today. In clinical trials, it has been shown to increase muscular power, strength and endurance, in conjunction with fat loss. The overall result is improved body composition. You may have heard of another popular osmolyte in the health and fitness supplement segment called creatine. Like creatine, it is possible that betaine may hasten muscle and strength gains. Through protein synthesis, betaine is able to increase the growth of muscle. The digestive and cardiovascular benefits are much more established and understood than the body composition benefits; however, much research is underway in this area.
A recommended daily intake amount of betaine for adults is yet to officially be established. The suggested dose depends on the particular condition that is being addressed. Additional research is underway to establish a universal standard, although recommendations do exist for certain conditions. For example, for those afflicted with liver issues induced by alcohol consumption, between 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams taken three times daily is the advised dosage level. This is quite an aggressive dose, but it is required in order to repair the damage done to the liver in recovering alcoholics.
For nutritional support in otherwise heathy people, a less aggressive dose is suggested. If you’re looking to take a supplement as a digestive aid (in the form of betaine HCl), there are offerings on the market ranging from 650 to 2500 milligrams. We recommend supplementing with Betaine HCL with Pepsin and Mucosave® by Enzymedica to acidify the stomach, activate the digestive process, and soothe the stomach lining.
For those looking to support their exercise performance with betaine and improve their body composition, they should consider taking a daily dose of between 1500 to 2000 milligrams. This suggestion is provided while acknowledging that there is no official recommendation at present.
Conditions Requiring Caution
Please note: It is not recommended that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding supplement with betaine. More testing needs to be completed in this area to ensure safety. Unless specifically prescribed by a physician to treat certain conditions, such as genetic diseases related to liver malfunction, children and infants should not be given betaine supplementation.