A chemical, betaine (trimethylglycine or TMG), can be consumed in the diet or derived from dietary choline. Betaine levels are high in shellfish, spinach and sugar beets (Beta vulgaris). It functions in the liver and kidneys by maintaining electrolyte balance across membranes and the microscopic structures of those tissues. It prevents accumulation of lipids in fatty liver, coronary arteriosclerosis and hyperlipidemia.
Betaine may prevent increased levels of homocysteine in the blood and appears to be liver protective, especially beneficial in hepatitis cases. The present study was done to test the activity of betaine derived from sugar beet molasses. In the research, liver injury was produced in rodents with D-galactosamine (hepatotoxic) causing injuries similar to viral hepatitis. A number of blood tests were done to evaluate liver function, including glutathione levels, S-adenosyl methionine (SAM) and S-adenosyl homocystine (SAH).
In the first experiment, the animals were divided into three groups to receive either a normal rat diet, or a regular diet supplemented with 1 or 2% wt./wt. of sugar beet-derived betaine. The animals were than sacrificed and their livers examined. This experiment showed that the rats which received 1% or 2% betaine had lower serum enzymes than the control rats which did not receive betaine. Rats which received betaine had higher levels of liver glutathione (beneficial).
In the second experiment, animals were injected with the chemical which induced a hepatitis-like condition. They were divided into four groups. One group did not receive liver damage, but the other three did on day 14 of the study. One group was followed as controls, and the rats of the last two groups received 1% or 2% treatment with betaine. There were two controls in this study with one receiving no liver injury and one receiving liver injury, but not treated. Again, the livers were removed and tested at the end of the experiment.
In this second experiment, the rats who received betaine had a significant reduction in food consumption compared to the controls. The control rats with liver damage had a marked elevation of liver enzymes consistent with their liver damage. The rats that received 1% had much lower enzyme levels, indicating reduced liver damage, and increased glutathione levels, which is liver protective. The 1% group had the best results. Through several chemical steps, betaine is converted to glutathione which has a well-known protective effect on damaged tissues and toxicity.
CONCLUSION: Betaine derived from sugar beets is protective for the liver. When given therapeutically, it lowers the enzyme levels which indicate there has been liver damage as well as increases glutathione levels which indicate reduced toxicity and tissue damage. The 2% dose may be too high and needs more study.
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NOTE: Read about betaine and alcohol-induced fatty liver.