AUTHOR Dr. Carlos Orozco (BSc, MSc, ND, MD, PhD, FPAMS).
Betaine is a derivative of the nutrient choline; in other words, choline is a “precursor” to betaine and must be present for betaine to be synthesized in the human body. Betaine is created by choline in combination with three methyl radicals and glycine, an aminoacid. Therefore, Betaine is known as trimethylglycine (TMG) and the human body is able to synthesized it. It’s involved in liver function, cellular reproduction, and helping make carnitine. It also helps the body metabolize an amino acid called homocysteine.
Just like some B vitamins, including folate andvitamin B12, betaine is considered to be a “methyl donor.” This means it aids in liver function, detoxification and cellular functioning within the body. It’s most crucial role is to help the body process fats.
Probably the most extensively researched benefit of betaine is its use to convert homocysteine in the blood to methionine. Homocysteine is an amino acid that is produced by the body naturally. Amino acids are the building blocks of all the proteins in the body. Although amino acids are critical compounds needed for many body functions, studies show that high levels of the amino acid homocysteine can be harmful to blood vessels, potentially leading to the development of plaque buildup and the condition called atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).
A betaine deficiency is not thought to be common in western nations, mostly because betaine is present in high amounts in wheat products, which are a staple in most people’s diets. Although it’s not directly due to low betaine intake, diets low in betaine may contribute to high homocysteine in the blood. High homocysteine levels in the blood may be elevated for many reasons, mainly epigeneticsdue to environmental factors, diet and life style.
The biggest threat to consuming low betaine levels is experiencing symptoms related to high homocysteine in the blood. This is seen most often in either older populations above 50, those who have suffered from alcoholism, or in children who have genetic conditions that lead to high homocysteine. Although this condition is rare, severely elevated levels of homocysteine can cause developmental delay, osteoporosis (thin bones), visual abnormalities, formation of blood clots, and narrowing and hardening of blood vessels.
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