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Clinical biochemistry

The clinical significance of betaine, an osmolyte with a key role in methyl group metabolism.


PMID 20346934

Abstract

Betaine is an essential osmolyte and source of methyl groups and comes from either the diet or by the oxidation of choline. Its metabolism methylates homocysteine to methionine, also producing N,N-dimethylglycine. Betaine insufficiency is associated with the metabolic syndrome, lipid disorders and diabetes, and may have a role in vascular and other diseases. Betaine is important in development, from the pre-implantation embryo to infancy. Betaine supplementation improves animal and poultry health, but the effect of long-term supplementation on humans is not known, though reports that it improves athletic performance will stimulate further studies. Subsets of the population that may benefit from betaine supplementation could be identified by the laboratory, in particular those who excessively lose betaine through the urine. Plasma betaine is highly individual, in women typically 20-60 micromol/L and in men 25-75 micromol/L. Plasma dimethylglycine is typically <10 micromol/L. Urine betaine excretion is minimal, even following a large betaine dose. It is constant, highly individual and normally <35 mmol/mole creatinine. The preferred method of betaine measurement is by LC-MS/MS, which is rapid and capable of automation. Slower HPLC methods give comparable results. Proton NMR spectrometry is another option but caution is needed to avoid confusion with trimethylamine-N-oxide.