Betaine in human nutrition

Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Sep;80(3):539-49. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/80.3.539.


Betaine is distributed widely in animals, plants, and microorganisms, and rich dietary sources include seafood, especially marine invertebrates ( approximately 1%); wheat germ or bran ( approximately 1%); and spinach ( approximately 0.7%). The principal physiologic role of betaine is as an osmolyte and methyl donor (transmethylation). As an osmolyte, betaine protects cells, proteins, and enzymes from environmental stress (eg, low water, high salinity, or extreme temperature). As a methyl donor, betaine participates in the methionine cycle-primarily in the human liver and kidneys. Inadequate dietary intake of methyl groups leads to hypomethylation in many important pathways, including 1) disturbed hepatic protein (methionine) metabolism as determined by elevated plasma homocysteine concentrations and decreased S-adenosylmethionine concentrations, and 2) inadequate hepatic fat metabolism, which leads to steatosis (fatty accumulation) and subsequent plasma dyslipidemia. This alteration in liver metabolism may contribute to various diseases, including coronary, cerebral, hepatic, and vascular diseases. Betaine has been shown to protect internal organs, improve vascular risk factors, and enhance performance. Databases of betaine content in food are being developed for correlation with population health studies. The growing body of evidence shows that betaine is an important nutrient for the prevention of chronic disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Betaine / administration & dosage*
  • Betaine / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / administration & dosage
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hyperhomocysteinemia / metabolism
  • Hyperhomocysteinemia / prevention & control
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Kidney Diseases / metabolism
  • Kidney Diseases / prevention & control
  • Lipotropic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Lipotropic Agents / metabolism
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Liver Diseases / metabolism
  • Liver Diseases / prevention & control
  • Methionine / metabolism
  • Methyltransferases / metabolism
  • Osmolar Concentration


  • Gastrointestinal Agents
  • Lipotropic Agents
  • Betaine
  • Methionine
  • Methyltransferases