Betaine may play immune-supporting and injury prevention role, study finds

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Writing in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, ​the Spanish-based team point to betaine’s possible role in exercise recovery and regulation of an athlete’s immune system.

“The results confirmed that 14 weeks of betaine supplementation prevented an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines and While Blood Cell (WBC) counts,”​ the study team concludes, led by Dr Hadi Nobari, researcher at the Universidad de Extremadura in Spain.

“The changes in immune cell and inflammatory status in the present study suggest, for the first time, that betaine supplementation may also be a useful nutritional strategy to counter some of the negative immunological changes that are associated with Non-Functional Overreaching Syndrome (NFOR).”

NFOR occurs when the volume of training/competition increases in conjunction with insufficient recovery.

Athletes may enter into NFOR, which is characterised by decreases in performance and greater incidences of injury and illness due to accumulating fatigue during the season.

Study details

The research team enrolled twenty-nine football players and randomly divided them into two groups based on playing position: Betaine Group (BG, n = 14, two grams per day (g/day)) or placebo group (PG, n = 15).

During the 14-week study period, training load was matched, and well-being indicators were monitored daily.

The cytokines and complete blood cell (CBC) count were assessed at pre- (P1), mid- (P2), and post- (P3) season.

Results revealed the levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines, tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and interleukins-1 beta (IL-1β), − 6 (IL-6) lower in the BG at P2 and P3 compared to P1. Further findings revealed IL-1β levels to be greater in the PG at P3 compared to P1.

WBC demonstrated increases at P3 compared to P2 in PG; Red Blood Cell (RBC) was less at P3 compared to P1 in BG.

Meanwhile, Haemoglobin (Hb) was greater at P2 compared to P1, whilst it was less at P3 compared to P3 for both groups.

Mean Corpuscular Haemoglobin Concentration (MCHC) was greater at P3 and P2 compared to P1 in BG, whereas MCHC was significantly lower at P3 compared to P2 in the PG.

“In the present study, inflammatory cytokines in the BG were 24–40% less at the end of the season compared to the start, whereas IL-1β (26%) and IL-6 (6.8%) were increased in the PG,”​ the study notes.

“Of the inflammatory cytokines assessed, IL-1β showed the greatest difference in response, decreasing by 40% between pre- and post-season in BG, but increasing by 26% in the PG.

“Betaine has been shown to suppress the NFκB pathway, and as a result, downregulates IL-1β and TNF-α gene expression and secretion.”

Protection against haemolysis

The research team goes onto note that in the present study, betaine supplementation prevented a reduction in Hb, MCH, and RDW compared to placebo at the end of the season, but a decrease in RBC was observed in the BG.

“We are unable to speculate on what may account for these divergent results at this time,”​ the researchers conclude.

“The improvement in Hb, MCH, and RDW suggests that betaine supplementation may protect erythrocytes against haemolysis during a soccer season, however, future research is necessary to further explore this hypothesis.”

Betaine is a by-product isolated from molasses during sugar beet refinement, and is naturally occurring in spinach, whole grains, and seafood.

While mechanisms by which betaine may be ergogenic are not fully understood, chronic betaine supplementation may enhance recovery between training sessions.  

It is thought Betaine offers some sort of protection against protein denaturation and promoting the secretion of insulin growth factor-1 and protein kinase B phosphorylation.

Source: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition

Published online: doi.org/10.1186/s12970-021-00441-5

“Effects of 14-weeks betaine supplementation on pro-inflammatory cytokines and hematology status in professional youth soccer players during a competition season: a double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.”

Authors:  Hadi Nobari et al.

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