What is betaine?

What is betaine is a question asked by very few people; only organic chemists and those concerned about the breakdown of a toxic compound called homocysteine formed from protein-metabolism would be interested.

For the chemical-structure of betaine I recommend looking at a biochemistry textbook or google it.

But if you want to improve your sense of well-being, make sure you are enjoying foods like beetroot regularly, even if you have no interest in knowing the reason why betaine is so important.

Photograph of beets, a rich source of betaine, in a bucket.

The complete absence of 100 percent real flour from supermarket-shelves is probably the main reason for a deficiency and the attendant cardiovascular disease.
This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 11th December, 2021.

100pc wholemeal flour in the miller's hands.

Betaines are found in plant cells to prevent excessive water-loss. Their real importance to those concerned about having more energy and wellness, is their ability to donate methyl groups.

Methylation, as it is known, is essential in human-metabolism, and the common beetroot is an excellent source of betaine; so is true wholemeal flour.

It is increasingly being understood that it is a vital nutrient, and a deficiency is the cause of chronic-disease in many different systems in the body.

Because a shortage raises the level of toxic homocysteine in the blood, it is one of the chief underlying causes of damage to capillaries, and hence the effect on the heart, brain and liver; and in fact all the organs of the body.

Betaine plays a vital part in the use of an important essential amino-acid called methionine which has to be consumed and is found in many foods such as meat, dairy and fish.

Oats, nuts and seeds are the main sources of this protein for vegans.

This methionine cycle occurs mainly in the liver and kidneys; without adequate methylation, levels of homocysteine rise causing improper lipid-metabolism.

This leads to fatty liver, a real killer, and a host of blood vessel related diseases like stroke and heart attack, all related to poor-circulation. Add smoking to the equation and both arteries and veins will be in serious trouble.

Betaine is the source of methyl-groups in many biochemical processes in the body.

What is betaine?

What is betaine was originally found in sugar-beets, hence its name. It is a group of compounds involved in a very important reaction in the human body called methylation.

Likewise it's vital for other mammals and has been used in animal-feed for over half a century. For example in the poultry and pork industry it is used to reduce ugly and excessive body fat; it can do the same for us.

In grains betaine is mainly found in 100% wholemeal, but not in refined flour[2]; in the germ and bran. To enjoy it you first have to learn about storing wheat.

Beets, spinach and seafood are the other good sources.

There is a monumental lie in milling; they are allowed to call your flour "wholemeal" provided they do not remove more than than 40% of the grain; the germ and bran where the betaine is found. It comes as no surprise that heart-disease and stroke are by far the most common cause of death according to the WHO[1], and rising fast.

So you see, what is betaine is not an unimportant question.

It is also a breakdown product of the vitamin known as choline, but the traditional Western mix of foods contains 50-percent or less of this vital substance, so we are likely not getting sufficient betaine from our meals.

Choline too is found mostly in 100% wholewheat, rarely eaten except as bulgar in the West, eggs and green leafy vegetables; try and purchase it and you will know what I mean.

Here you can find more information about choline food sources.

Choline is used in three ways:

  1. To form betaine.
  2. For the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
  3. For phospholipids in cell membranes.

Adequate choline is obviously vital for optimal-wellness.

So betaine, whether obtained directly from our food, or from choline metabolism, has the vital function of methylating toxic homocysteine and converting it back to methionine, and on to another important compound called SAM. This also occurs via another cycle requiring folate and B12 as a secondary pathway.

But both pathways require adequate amounts of folate, B9, choline and B12. These vitamins are essential for detoxifying homocysteine, the cause of heart conditions, stroke and Alzheimer' disease; and many other illnesses.

And, because these processes occur mainly in the liver, that is where fat is deposited in the event of a deficiency of these B vitamins.

Fatty liver is a serious disease, undermining the rest of the health of capilaries by distorting blood lipids and associated with raised glucose.


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Obtaining insufficient betaine from our food results in a swollen liver with dysfunction and poor control of blood sugar; it should suck up excess glucose and turn it into triglycerides but is unable to do so. And so the bad LDL-cholesterol is raised; that means statins.

Ironically recommendations now are for more eggs to provide choline which breaks down to betaine for improved liver function and a better lipid profile; 100-percent wholewheat too which is only rarely eaten by humans, and greens including spinach, plus beets.

Folk often complain they simply do not have the time to commit to a wellness way of eating; my response is that you will spend a hundred times as many hours consulting-doctors.

Start by potting in the spring garden; plant some beets.

Eggs Florentine on Swiss chard is a great betaine meal.

The take home from this page on what is betaine, is the importance of foods like beets and spinach, eggs and 100% wholemeal bread.

Look for our bread pages in the navigation bar; it takes me only five minutes each day to bake our artisan bread from freshly-ground wholemeal. I confess it; I'm crazy about real food that tastes good and can be prepared in a jiffy.

Free range eggs may actually lower the risk of heart disease because of the betaine they provide, via choline.

Did you find this page interesting? How about forwarding it to a friend, or book and food junkie; or, better still, a Facebook or Twitter tick would help.


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