Higher serum choline and betaine levels are associated with better body composition in male but not female population

PLoS One. 2018 Feb 20;13(2):e0193114. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0193114. eCollection 2018.


Background: Animal studies proved that choline and betaine have beneficial effect on reducing body fat. However, evidence in humans is scarce. We aim to investigate the association between serum choline and betaine levels with body composition in general population.

Methods: This is an observational cross-sectional study performed in 1081 subjects from the CODING (Complex Disease in Newfoundland population: Environment and Genetics) study. Serum choline and betaine levels were measured based on liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry technology. Body composition was measured using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry following a 12-hour fast. Major confounding factors including age, sex, total calorie intake and physical activity level were controlled in all analyses.

Results: Significantly inverse correlations were found between serum betaine levels and all obesity measurements in males (r ranged from -0.12 to -0.23, and p<0.01 for all) but not in females. Serum choline was negatively associated with total percent body fat (%BF), percent trunk fat (%TF), weight, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC), and waist-to-hip ratio (r ranged from -0.11 to -0.19, and p<0.05 for all) in males and positively associated with weight, BMI and WC (r ranged from 0.09 to 0.10, and p<0.05 for all) in females. The negative associations between serum choline and betaine levels with obesity in males were more profound in those not on any medication than those taking medications. Moreover, obese males had the lowest serum choline and betaine levels, followed by overweight males, and normal weight males having the highest serum choline and betaine levels, especially in those not taking medications (p<0.05). Likewise, subjects with the highest serum levels of both had the lowest obesity indexes, especially those not taking medications.

Conclusions: Higher serum choline and betaine levels were associated with a more favorable body composition (lower body fat and higher lean body mass) in males and the favorable association was more pronounced in non-medication users.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adult
  • Betaine / blood*
  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Choline / blood*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Obesity / blood
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Betaine
  • Choline

Grant support

This project has been funded by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) (operating grant: MOP192552 to GS), National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31371757 to XG), State Key Program of National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31330060 to XG), Shandong province key R & D projects (key technologies) (NO.2016ZDJS06A01 to XG), The People’s Livelihoods Science and Technology Project of Qingdao, Shandong Province, China (NO.17-3-3-68-nsh to XG) and China Scholarship Council (No. [2014]3026 to XG). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.