Betaine Lowers Homocysteine Levels
Betaine, a vitamin-like compound that occurs naturally in the body and in some foods, can lower blood levels of homocysteine, reports a study in the Journal of Nutrition (2003;133:4125–8). Because keeping homocysteine levels low appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, increasing one’s intake of betaine may help keep the heart healthy.
The body produces homocysteine when it metabolizes the amino acid methionine. There is evidence that homocysteine is a toxic molecule, capable of causing damage to arteries and possibly promoting the development of osteoporosis. The body has two major ways of ridding itself of homocysteine: (1) converting it back to methionine, or (2) breaking it down further into other compounds. These metabolic pathways require three vitamins to work: folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. A growing body of evidence indicates that supplementing with these vitamins not only can lower homocysteine levels, but may also prevent or even reverse hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
Betaine has also been shown to reduce homocysteine levels, but the 6 grams per day used in the various studies was relatively large; a normal diet contains considerably less betaine, typically 0.5 to 2 grams per day. The new study was designed to determine whether betaine in amounts found in an average diet would have an effect on homocysteine levels.
Nineteen healthy volunteers received daily supplements of either 1.5, 3, or 6 grams of betaine or a placebo for six weeks, in two divided doses per day. Compared with the placebo, each dose of betaine produced a significant reduction in the homocysteine concentration, averaging 12, 15, and 20% for the 1.5-, 3-, and 6-gram doses, respectively. The results of previous studies have suggested that lowering homocysteine levels by 12% (which was achieved with the 1.5-gram dose) would reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by approximately 5 to 8%. Therefore, consuming a diet high in betaine would be expected to decrease the risk of heart disease.
Major food sources of betaine include whole wheat, wheat germ, wheat bran, spinach, and beets. Whole wheat contains substantially more betaine than refined-grain products from which most of the germ and bran have been removed. Reports that eating whole grains is associated with a lower risk of heart disease might be explained in part by the high concentration of betaine in whole grains. Betaine is also available as a nutritional supplement, both as pure betaine and as betaine hydrochloride. The latter is used primarily to provide hydrochloric acid for people whose stomachs do not produce enough acid for normal digestion. People who do not have low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) might develop heartburn if they take betaine hydrochloride; those people would likely fare better with pure betaine.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, testified to the White House Commission on CAM upon request in December 2001. Dr. Gaby served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). A former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, in Kenmore, WA, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Gaby is the Chief Medical Editor for Healthnotes, Inc.
Copyright © 2004 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of the Healthnotes® content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Healthnotes, Inc. Healthnotes Newswire is for educational or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or provide treatment for any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a healthcare professional. Healthnotes, Inc. shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Healthnotes and the Healthnotes logo are registered trademarks of Healthnotes, Inc.