What is betaine? Why do we need it?
Also known as trimethylglycine or TMG, betaine is a chemical compound similar to choline, folic acid, and SAMe. Together, these compounds function as "methyl donors" that carry methyl molecules throughout the body, and thus help in the completion of several vital chemical processes.
As a nutritional supplement, betaine's primary role is to support and improve liver function. It does a particularly good job of helping the liver process fats, or lipids; animal studies have shown that betaine helps protect the liver from chemical damage, and can improve, or even reverse, a condition called fatty liver disease caused by high intake of alcohol. Betaine has also been shown to be useful in controlling homocysteine levels in the blood, and thus may help to reduce the incidence of atherosclerosis and osteoporosis. There is anecdotal evidence that betaine can help improve a condition called dry mouth.
How much betaine should I take?
To help treat fatty liver disease caused by alcohol intake, many practitioners recommend between 1,000 and 2,000 milligrams of betaine supplements taken three times daily. Lower amounts are often taken as a general supplement and to improve overall liver function.
What forms of betaine are available?
Betaine can be obtained through one's diet from foods such as fish, beets and beans. Betaine is also available as a dietary supplement, usually as betaine hydrochloride, in capsule or tablet form.
What can happen if I take too much betaine? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?
As of this writing, there are no known side-effects or drug interactions associated with betaine. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking betaine or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.
- Barak AJ, Beckenhauer HC, Matti J, et al. Dietary betaine promotes generation of hepatic S-adenosylmethioine and protects the liver from ethanol-induced fatty infiltration. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 1993;17:552-5.
- Barak AJ, Beckenhauer HC, Tuma DJ. Betaine, ethanol, and the liver: a review. Alcohol 1996;13:395-8.
- Chambers ST. Betaines: their significance for bacteria and the renal tract. Clin Sci 1995;88:25-7.
- Soderling E, Le Bell A, Kirstila V, et al. Betaine-containing toothpaste relieves subjective symptoms of dry mouth. Acta Odontol Scand 1998;56:65-9.
- van Guldener C, Janssen MJ, de Meer K, et al. Effect of folic acid and betaine on fasting and postmethionine-loading plasma homocysteine and methionine levels in chronic haemodialysis patients. J Intern Med 1999;245:175-83.