What is betaine?

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

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

For the chemical nature of this group of compounds I recommend looking at a biochemistry text book, or google.

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 desire to know the reason why betaine is so important.

This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 11th September, 2019.

By Bernard Preston

Betaines are found in plant cells preventing 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.

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 main underlying causes of damage to capillaries, and hence the effect on heart, brain, liver, and in fact all the organs of the body.

Betaine is 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.

For vegans oats, nuts and seeds are the main sources of this protein.

This methionine cycle occurs mainly in the liver and kidneys; with inadequate methylation, levels of homocysteine rise and there is 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 are 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 unhealthy body fat; it can do the same for us.

In grains, betaine is mainly found in 100% wholewheat, but not in refined flour; in the germ and bran. 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].

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

It's also a breakdown product of the vitamin known as choline, but the traditional Western diet contains 50% or less of this vital substance, so we are likely not getting sufficient betaine from our food.

Choline too is found mostly in 100% wholewheat, a rare food in the Western diet, 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 in the diet, or from choline metabolism, has the vital function of methylating toxic homocysteine and converting it back to methionine, and on to another vital 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 disease, stroke, Alzheimers 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 blood vessel health by distorting blood lipids.

Obtaining insufficient betaine in the diet research shows results in poor liver function, increased size and poor control of blood sugar; and raised cholesterol.

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

Folk often complain they simply don't 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.

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.

Eggs Florentine, cooked on a bed of spinach and enjoyed on a slice of 100% wholewheat toast is perfect betaine food. Healthy flour is very difficult to get, so we grind our own.

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

  1. Bernard Preston
  2. Power of purple foods
  3. What is betaine

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