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Betaine, also called betaine anhydrous or trimethylglycine (TMG), is a substance that’s made in the body, where it’s involved in liver function, cellular reproduction, and helping make carnitine. It also helps the body metabolize homocysteine, an amino acid. Betaine is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat a genetic condition where too much homocysteine builds up in the body.
Betaine has also been proposed as a way to lower homocysteine levels in people who don’t have the genetic disease. That’s because higher levels of homocysteine are associated with heart disease. But researchers don’t yet know exactly how high levels of homocysteine and heart disease are related.
Studies suggest that betaine, along with vitamins B6 and B12 and folic acid, helps reduce higher levels of homocysteine. Having high levels of homocysteine is related to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. However, scientists don't yet know whether homocysteine itself is harmful, or whether it is just an indicator of increased risk for heart disease. Some studies show that high levels of homocysteine may encourage atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Betaine supplements may increase cholesterol levels, which could work against any treatment for heart disease. If you are at risk for heart disease, your doctor may test levels of homocysteine in your blood. Ask your doctor whether taking supplements of betaine, folic acid, and the B vitamins makes sense for you.
Some people have a genetic condition called homocystinuria, in which homocysteine levels build up in the body. They are at much higher risk of developing heart disease and osteoporosis as early as their 20s. Betaine supplements are used to lower levels of homocysteine in people with this inherited health condition.
Studies in rats suggest that betaine may help protect against harmful fatty deposits in the liver. These deposits can be caused by alcohol abuse, obesity, diabetes, and other causes. A few studies on people have been positive, but the studies were not all of good quality. More research is needed.
One study found that a toothpaste containing betaine helped relieve dry mouth.
Food sources of betaine include beets, broccoli, grains, shellfish, and spinach.
Betaine supplements are manufactured as a byproduct of sugar beet processing. They are available in powder, tablet, and capsule forms.
How to Take It
Betaine is not recommended for children unless it is prescribed by your child's health care provider to treat homocystinuria, a genetic condition.
Recommended doses of betaine vary depending on the condition being treated. Ask your health care provider to help you determine the right dose for you.
Betaine is usually taken with folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, you should take dietary supplements only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.
Most side effects from betaine are mild and include diarrhea, stomach upset, and nausea.
Betaine can raise total cholesterol levels. People who are overweight, have heart disease, or are at risk for heart disease should not take betaine without talking to their health care provider.
People with kidney disease should not take betaine.
In people with kidney disease, betaine may interfere with drugs taken to lower cholesterol levels in the blood.
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Review Date: 4/2/2011
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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