Betaine – also known as betaine anhydrous, or trimethylglycine (TMG) – is an amino acid that’s naturally produced in our body. It is involved in liver function and helping to make carnitine – a compound involved in metabolism in most mammals, plants and some bacteria. Betaine has been shown to have potential benefits for combating heart disease, boosting body composition, and helping to encourage fat loss and muscle gain because of its abilities to stimulate protein synthesis in the body.
Betaine is gaining popularity as a supplement in recent years, but this nutrient isn’t a newly discovered one. It’s been investigated for its ability to help prevent heart disease for quite some time, but it has very recently been included regularly in exercise-focused protein powders, energy supplements, and other products meant for improving body composition and boosting exercise performance.
Potential Betaine Musculoskeletal Health Benefits
1. Betaine is an indirect antioxidant & anti-inflammatory
High levels of homocysteine have been associated with excessive oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. Betaine helps convert harmful levels of homocysteine to healthful levels of methionine, an essential amino acid.
2. Betaine helps protect DNA
Betaine is essential for the production of S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), a universal donor of carbon that is critical for DNA health. Many chronic musculoskeletal diseases, such as arthritis, demonstrate a high degree of DNA damage that contributes to disease progression and magnification of symptoms. Ample SAM, helps boost DNA repair and replication pathways.
3. Betaine improves performance
Betaine is a potent osmolyte. Osmolytes help the cell maintain the optimal water content under adverse conditions such as strenuous activity, fatigue, and dehydration. When water leeks out of the cell than the normal cellular machinery fails causing dysfunction, cell injury, and even cell death.
Researchers from the University of Connecticut examined the effect of betaine supplementation on cycling performance. Study subjects consumed 2.5 grams of betaine daily for 7 days. Compared to baseline betaine ingestion increased average peak power by 6.4%. (Pryor et al. Effect of betaine supplementation on cycling sprint performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2012, 9:12 http://www.jissn.com/content/9/1/12)
4. Betaine enhances strength
Optimal betaine levels potentially boost production of muscular creatine by acting as a carbon donor. Abundant creatine fuels intense workouts and catalyzes growth. Additionally, some research suggests betaine stimulates Insulin Growth Like Factor-1, a pro-growth hormone.
Investigators at the University of Connecticut examined the effect of betaine supplementation on power and strength performance. Study subjects consumed 2.5 grams of betaine daily for 14 days. Compared to baseline betaine ingestion improved bench press, squat, and vertical jump values.(Lee et al. Ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation on strength and power performanceJournal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2010, 7:27 http://www.jissn.com/content/7/1/27)
Other Health benefits
Betaine was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat a genetic condition where too much homocysteine (an amino acid) builds up in the body. It was found to help the body metabolize homocysteine.
Betaine has also been proposed as a means to reduce homocysteine levels in people without the genetic disease, because higher levels of this amino acid are linked with heart disease and stroke. However, the mechanisms behind this association isn’t yet clear to the scientists. They don’t know whether homocysteine itself is damaging, or whether it is just a signal of heightened risk for heart disease. It is however known is that betaine helps to combat hardening and narrowing of arteries due to high levels of homocysteine.
May help to lose fat
Some studies suggest that betaine supplementation may help in changing how the body processes nutrients, resulting in faster fat loss without losing muscle mass or breaking down tissues.
A 2002 study on pigs showed that betaine supplements improved their ability to metabolize protein and they lost more weight compared to the pigs in the control group receiving placebo. Also, the pigs taking betaine had their protein accumulation improved and body fat percentages reduced compared to the pigs not receiving betaine. Additionally, the more betaine the pigs received, the more fat-loss they showed.
The researchers, however note that the findings may be most obvious in instances where the pigs are fed low calorie diets overall. Similar results were found in a 2000 study, where fat-reducing capacity of betaine was most clear when it was added to low calorie diets with already reduced energy.
Betaine improves liver health by helping in the process of detoxification and the liver digesting fats. Fat accumulation may reach dangerous levels due to conditions such as obesity, alcohol abuse and diabetes. Betaine, however is able to aid in liver detoxification and removal of fats.
Betaine also prevents damage to the digestive tract by helping the liver to dispose of toxins and chemicals.
What happens when the body doesn’t have enough betain?
As high amounts of betaine is present in wheat products, a staple of Western diet, betaine deficiency isn’t common in the western countries. Low betaine intake may lead to high homocysteine levels in the blood, which may increase further due to several reasons such as genetics, environmental factors and genetics. Although rare, this condition is often seen in older people above 50 years of age, alcoholics or children with genetic disorders that lead to high homocysteine levels. Dangerously high levels of homocysteine may cause osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), developmental delay, blood clot formations, visual abnormalities and narrowing and hardening of the blood vessels.
What are the best natural sources of betaine?
Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for betaine hasn’t been established yet. Experts recommend consuming between 650 to 2000 mg of betaine per day.
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