Betaine is incorporated into drinks and capsules.
A dietary ingredient extracted from sugar beet and which naturally occurs in elevated levels in shellfish, spinach, wheat germ, pasta and mushrooms may become the focus of a cost-effective first step therapy for liver disease, and a potential risk reducer for cardiovascular disease.

Milk thistle and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) have dominated the spotlight as supplements to support liver function. However, studies show that trimethylglycine, or betaine, also has lipotropic effects (it helps the liver break down fats). For example, animal and human clinical studies indicate that betaine protects the liver from chemical- and alcohol-induced damage, elevates liver SAMe levels, and improves symptoms of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).1-3

Betaine functions as a "methyl donor" within the methionine cycle, as do SAMe, choline, folic acid and vitamin B12. It is closely related to choline. Methyl groups are required for liver function, cellular replication, and detoxification.

Danisco USA Inc., which has led efforts to commercially separate betaine, offers it as a dietary supplement, and the company is pursuing GRAS status. Stuart Craig, Ph.D., scientific and regulatory affairs manager at Danisco, says, "We suspect there's a deficiency in betaine…people just aren't eating enough of the foods with high concentrations of betaine, such as vegetables, whole grains and seafood."

Danisco now offers Betafin BF 20, which is very stable and has a mild taste and no color issues. These characteristics make it suitable for a wide variety of applications, including bars, beverages, capsules and tablets. Betaine is allowed in food and beverages in Japan and Korea, and it is being pursued for these similar applications in Europe and other countries.

Betaine's chemical structure is closely related to choline, which is oxidized to betaine in the liver. Choline is not a direct methyl donor and is converted to betaine first.
The ingredient also has been shown to reduce homocysteine levels, a risk indicator for cardiovascular disease in individuals with a genetic predisposition to the disease but who do not necessarily possess typical risk factors.4-6

The American Heart Association recommends screening homocysteine levels in such individuals. High homocysteine levels also may be linked to increased risk of Alzheimer's and neural tube defects. The levels may be lowered by a balanced diet, especially one rich in folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, and betaine.

As betaine may offer a natural, more cost-effective method of providing dietary liver support, it currently is included in heart healthy supplements—along with folic acid and B vitamins. Ariella Gastel, business manager of health and nutrition, Danisco, says, "People are recognizing that cholesterol isn't the only story in terms of heart health."


1 Barak AJ, et. al., 1997. The effect of betaine in reversing alcoholic steatosis. Alcoholism Clin. Exp. Res. 21, 1100-2.

2 Kim, SK, et. al., 1998. Effect of betaine administration on metabolism of hepatic glutathione in rats. Arch. Pharm. Res. 21 790-2.

3 Abdelmalek MF, et. al., 2001. Betaine, a promising new agent for patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis: results of a pilot study. Am. J. Gastroenterol. 96, 2711-7.

4 Brouwer G, et. al., 2000. Betaine supplementation and plasma homocysteine in healthy volunteers. Arch. Int. Med. 160, 2546-7.

5 McGregor DO, et. al., 2002. Betaine supplementation decreases post-methionine hyperhomocysteinemia in chronic renal failure. Kidney Int. 61, 1040-6.

6 Selhub J., 1999. Homocysteine metabolism. Annu Rev Nutr19:217-46 [review].

For more information:

Ariella Gastel at 800-255-6837
Danisco USA Inc.