5 commentslast update:6 Aug 2012


I have just completed a study on betaine for one of my customers. It appears, betaine has strong potential as an additive in poultry and we shall be seeing more of it in the near future! Nevertheless, the available literature on betaine is rather confusing (isn't it the case for all additives?)

There are positive studies, and there are not so positive studies; not to mention no-effect studies. Of course, the theory behind it is brilliant. Betaine is a natural methyl donor and a’ strong osmoprotector. It can spare part of methionine and choline (other methyl donors) and help animals cope with water-related stress conditions (dehydration, diarrhea, etc). It can also be a lipotropic agent, causing reduction of backfat to otherwise fatty animals (such as castrates), and it can improve growth performance, and notably feed efficiency.

Right. All of these have been observed, but not consistently. So, I believe there are two major questions we need to address regarding practical use of betaine in poultry dies:

  1. How much of the methionine and choline can we replace with betaine? Or rather, how much do you dare (!) replace?
  2. What are the conditions under which we can expect betaine to improve animal performance (including growth, feed efficiency, and carcass traits)?

I would be glad to read your comments and experiences!


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    Dr Nikolaos Kotrotsios

    There is a debate considering the positive and negative effects by the addition of betaine in the diets of farm animals. Most studies of betaine as a dietary supplement for pigs have utilized to the rate of 0,1 to 0,125% betaine. Betaine has been proposed to increase leanness and enhance feed efficiency in finishing pigs but research data has shown mixed results. The addition of betaine in pigs is dependent on the sulphur aminoacid and energy concentrations in the diet. Betaine addition is being greater in diets low in energy and deficient in sulphur aminoacids (methionine,cystine). I would like to stand up on the synergistic effects for feeding conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) with betaine. When pigs were fed both 1% CLA and 0,5% betaine the average daily gain and feed efficiency were significantly improved. In addition, carcass protein and lean deposition increased and carcass fat tended to decrease with the combination of betaine and CLA. From the other hand betaine does not affect the apparent digestibility of total carbohydrates, dry matter and nitrogen. In order to avoid a deficiency methyl groups should increase DL-methionine supplementation and stabilized the choline level in the requirements on the breeding age. Nevertheless when the diet containing enough DL-methionine of a corn-soya bean meal, no supplemental choline was needed. However, addition of betaine to diets containing minimal choline allows a marked reduction in the total dietary choline requirement. Further work is required to better define the conditions for which dietary betaine can provide performance improvement.

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    Pro.ebrahim rowghani

    it is a very intersting area of research especially for "backfat" or carcass traits.it is more important in "feedlot" than poultry.

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    Ken Sanderson

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Betaine . I would contend that the literature on betaine is not confusing if one restricts oneself to the physiology and does not confuse marketing information with science. A recent summary article in Feedstuffs ...please see reference below helps explain.

    Feedstuffs, July 5, 2010 Feedstuffs Reprint
    � 2010 Feedstuffs. Reprinted with permission from Vol. 82, No. 27, July 5, 2010.
    CHOLINE is a water-soluble
    compound, and although it is often
    grouped with the B vitamins, it
    differs in that it is required in much larger
    amounts and used in metabolism much
    Despite choline being an essential
    nutrient and the fact that almost
    all poultry diets are supplemented
    with choline to improve growth or
    performance, its role and importance for
    poultry are not often considered.
    In the middle of the last century, Jukes
    (1940) fi rst showed that choline was
    required for normal growth and prevention
    of the leg disorder perosis in turkeys.
    Interestingly, he found that the amount of
    choline required to prevent perosis was
    greater than the amount needed to sustain
    normal growth and that betaine � the
    oxidative metabolite of choline � was not
    effective in preventing perosis.
    During the last 70 years, researchers�
    understanding of the importance of
    choline has greatly expanded, with
    a number of its key functions and
    metabolic pathways now described.
    Choline functions
    The six different functions of choline in
    metabolism have been characterized
    (Combs, 2008; McDowell, 2000) as
    (1) Essential for building and
    maintaining cell structure (primarily as
    phosphatidylcholine). In growing animals,
    such as broilers, this is especially
    (2) A methyl group donor for
    methionine formation. Choline must fi rst
    be oxidized to betaine for that to occur.
    (3) Essential for fat metabolism in the
    liver. Choline hastens fat removal and
    decreases fat deposition. In all animal
    Choline�s key role in
    poultry diet revisited
    species tested, fatty liver occurred when
    there was a choline defi ciency (Garrow,
    (4) Required for neurotransmission and
    brain development (as acetylcholine)
    in both central and peripheral nervous
    (5) A component of messaging
    molecules important in clotting,
    infl ammation and fetal development.
    (6) A source of osmolytes for
    regulating cell volume. Betaine and
    glycerophosphocholine are cholinederived
    In poultry, typically the fi rst three
    functions are considered important.
    Within the bird, the choline requirements
    may differ depending on age,
    physiological state and environment.
    Therefore, rates of absorption and
    metabolism may be altered to meet the
    bird�s needs.
    Choline plays many important metabolic roles in poultry, and
    to maximize the bird�s growth or performance, the diet must
    contain choline.
    Betaine Choline Betaine Choline Betaine Choline
    Intestine Liver Muscle
    Enrichment 14C dpm/mg
    1. Enrichment of intestine, liver and muscle tissues with 14C betaine
    and choline from broiler chicks 24 hours after label feeding
    (adapted from Kettunen et al., 2001)
    *Dr. Michael de Veth is a principal scientist
    with Balchem Animal Nutrition & Health.
    2. Choline metabolism in the body
    Dimethyl glycine
    PEMT Pathway (liver)
    Kennedy Pathway (all organs/tissues)
    Phosphocholine CDP-choline
    CH CH3 3X CH3 3
    FADH2 = 2 ATP
    NADH2 = 3 ATP
    ATP PPi + P
    Adenosine H20
    2 Feedstuffs, July 5, 2010 Reprint
    1. Choline content of common feedstuffs and a comparison
    with listed levels in the 1994 NRC poultry recommendations
    Number of -------------------Choline content (ppm)-------------------
    Sample samples Mean Std. error NRC value NRC/actual
    Soybean meal 27 1,967 102 2,731 1.39
    Corn 10 550 69 620 1.13
    Poultry meal 9 2,100 169 5,652 2.83
    DDGS 6 2,175 231 2,637 1.21
    Meat meal 2 761 175 2,077 2.73
    Wheat 2 1,008 79 1,002 1.00
    2. Comparison of choline, choline chloride and betaine based
    on molecular weight
    Molecular weight % choline Factor
    Choline 104.2 100.0 1.00
    Choline chloride
    100% 139.6 74.6 1.34
    75% 139.6 56.0 1.79
    70% 139.6 52.2 1.91
    100% 117.2 88.9 1.12
    38% 117.2 33.8 2.95
    Choline chloride 70%/betaine 38% � � 0.61
    Note: The value of choline chloride (70%, 75% or 100%) or betaine (38% or 100%) in products
    relative to choline and the multiplication factor to compare equivalence of products is indicated.
    Absorption, metabolism
    The metabolic needs for choline are
    supplied in two ways: by dietary choline
    and by choline synthesis in the animal.
    Although choline can be synthesized in
    birds, the extent to which this occurs
    is minimal (National Research Council
    [NRC], 1994), and therefore, to maximize
    growth or performance, the diet must
    supply choline.
    In the case of the growing chick, there
    is an absolute requirement for dietary
    choline as the chick cannot synthesize
    suffi cient amounts until up to 13 weeks of
    age (Combs, 2008).
    Choline in typical feedstuffs is not
    completely available for absorption. For
    example, the bioavailability of choline
    in soybean, canola and peanut meals
    was reported to be 83%, 24% and 76%,
    respectively (Emmert and Baker, 1997).
    However, choline chloride, the common
    form of supplemental choline, was
    considered to be 100% bioavailable.
    In addition to overall bioavailability, it
    is of interest to consider where choline is
    being utilized within the bird.
    One broiler study considered
    uptake by key organs and tissues
    when supplementing radio-labeled
    choline and betaine (Kettunen et al.,
    2001). Distribution of the radio-labeled
    compounds showed that choline (or
    its metabolites) was taken up by the
    liver and intestine at levels twofold and
    four-fold greater than that of betaine,
    indicating that choline was more
    bioavailable (Figure 1).
    Specifi cally for the liver, this fi nding is
    of particular interest as this is the major
    organ in the bird where choline and
    betaine can be used to spare methionine.
    Therefore, the greater level of choline
    uptake by the liver relative to betaine
    indicates that choline can potentially
    spare more methionine than betaine.
    It is important to consider choline
    metabolism because once choline
    is taken up by tissues, it must be
    metabolized because choline per se is not
    stored in the body (Garrow, 2007).
    Choline metabolism in the body is
    depicted in Figure 2. One important
    concept to recognize is that there are
    spatial differences in its metabolism
    within the animal.
    For example, it was mentioned earlier
    that choline is converted to acetylcholine
    for brain and nerve function. Because this
    is such a critical function, choline uptake
    in these regions proceeds at the fastest
    rate in the body.
    The next route of metabolism
    that is prioritized is the synthesis of
    phosphatidylcholine via the Kennedy
    pathway, and this occurs in all organs
    and tissues.
    The third route of choline metabolism
    is its oxidation to betaine. Once
    this irreversible step is completed,
    only the liver can utilize betaine
    as a methyl group donor (through
    the phosphatidylethanolamine
    methyltransferase [PEMT] pathway) to
    produce phosphatidylcholine.
    Finally, it is important to understand
    the energetics of these reactions,
    especially since both choline and betaine
    can spare methionine � choline via its
    oxidation to betaine (Figure 2). First,
    phosphatidylcholine synthesis from
    choline requires the equivalent of three
    ATP (the cellular units of energy in all
    In contrast, producing
    phosphatidylcholine from either
    methionine or betaine via the PEMT
    pathway requires 12 ATP. This is
    because the metabolism of each unit
    of methionine requires three ATP, and
    three units of methionine are required,
    summing nine ATP in total. In addition,
    three ATP are required to synthesize
    the acceptor of the methyl groups that
    come from methionine. Therefore, a
    total of 12 ATP are required to produce
    phosphatidylcholine from methionine
    and betaine.
    Another important energetic point is
    that using choline as a methyl donor
    provides energy for the bird because of
    the fi ve ATP that can be generated from
    the oxidation of choline to betaine. So,
    although betaine can spare some choline,
    it is at a greater energetic cost than using
    choline alone.
    Choline requirements
    Dietary choline requirements vary
    depending on the species and age of
    the bird. NRC (1994) suggested that the
    choline requirement of broilers is 1,300
    parts per million in the fi rst three weeks
    of age and subsequently declines to only
    1,000 ppm from three to six weeks of age.
    In addition to the many studies that
    demonstrated the importance of choline
    for maximizing growth and improving
    feed conversion when supplementing
    up to NRC requirements, a number of
    studies have also looked at the effect of
    supplementing choline above the levels
    suggested by NRC when feeding practical
    diets. These studies have found that
    the effect of choline supplementation is
    infl uenced by the level of sulfur amino
    acid (i.e., methionine and cysteine)
    content of the diet.
    An improvement in growth and/or feed
    conversion has been found to occur when
    diets moderately limiting in these amino
    acids are fed and additional choline is
    supplemented (Pesti et al., 1980; Pillai et
    al., 2006). However, a response to choline
    supplementation does not always occur
    when a methionine-limiting diet is fed.
    Recently, Waldroup et al. (2006)
    found that when diets varying in
    methionine defi ciency from 0 to 20% were
    supplemented with choline at 1,000 ppm
    above NRC requirements, there was no
    methionine-sparing effect by choline.
    Interestingly, this study found that
    there was a signifi cant effect of choline
    independent of methionine level in the
    diet, with improvements in both feed
    conversion and breast meat yield when
    1,000 ppm of choline was supplemented.
    This suggests that the choline was
    being used for its primary function to
    support growth rather than to spare
    Reprint Feedstuffs, July 5, 2010 3
    methionine, and this occurred despite the
    basal diet being supposedly balanced for
    choline to meet NRC requirements.
    Preferential use of choline for growth
    in this way aligns with the clear
    understanding that its metabolism is
    favored toward producing the building
    blocks of cells (i.e., phosphatidylcholine)
    rather than the methyl donor betaine (as
    described in the previous section).
    Clearly, more research is required to
    consider if the choline requirements have
    increased with current bird genetics and
    modern management practices.
    Other considerations
    Choline levels in feedstuffs. When
    formulating diets to meet choline
    requirements, the levels of choline in the
    ingredients must be taken into account,
    and then the diet can be supplemented
    with choline sources such as choline
    Few, if any, nutritionists analyze the
    diet�s ingredients for choline content.
    Therefore, sources of information
    such as the 1994 NRC poultry feedstuff
    compositional table may be used to set
    choline levels of feed ingredients.
    However, the nutrient composition of
    feedstuffs in NRC is based on data that
    are 15-30 years old and does not specify
    the number of samples or the analytical
    techniques used. Therefore, it is of
    interest to re-evaluate the choline content
    of common feedstuffs as changes have
    occurred in plant cultivars, processing
    of protein byproducts and analytical
    techniques for measuring choline.
    Recently, Balchem undertook a small
    survey of feedstuff samples relevant
    to the poultry industry in an effort to
    compare current choline levels with
    expected levels based on the 1994 NRC.
    Samples of soybean meal, corn grain,
    poultry meal, dried distillers grain plus
    solubles (DDGS), meat meal and wheat
    were collected from poultry producers
    across the U.S. (representing 13 states).
    These samples were analyzed for
    choline levels using acid extraction to
    liberate choline and an enzymatic method
    to determine the level of free choline.
    The results of the testing of choline
    levels are presented in Table 1. The
    comparison of choline content for wheat
    and corn with NRC values indicates that
    observed results matched well with
    NRC listed values, but soybean meal
    was overestimated by 39% (the ratio
    of NRC to observed choline was 1.39).
    Other feedstuffs such as poultry meal
    and meat meal were found to be grossly
    overestimated by NRC.
    Emmert and Baker (1997) also reported
    lower total choline levels in soybean
    meal, canola meal and peanut meal
    compared to NRC values.
    More work will need to be conducted to
    confi rm results. However, based on these
    results and those of Emmert and Baker
    (1997), nutritionists who formulate diets
    strictly based on NRC predicted levels
    for choline run the risk that diets will
    have insuffi cient choline to meet birds�
    requirements to maximize growth.
    Choline and betaine equivalence.
    Betaine can be extracted as a byproduct
    during sugar beet processing, and
    therefore, some poultry diets are
    supplemented with betaine as an
    alternative to choline. The nutritional
    signifi cance of betaine in this case is its
    ability to spare methionine by donating
    methyl groups to homocysteine.
    Both choline and betaine can
    contribute up to three methyl groups,
    so a simple calculation based on the
    molecular weight of each can be made to
    calculate their potential contribution as
    methyl donors for methionine formation.
    The molecular weights of choline,
    choline chloride and betaine are 104.2,
    139.6 and 117.2, respectively (Table 2).
    This means that each unit of 100% choline
    chloride and 100% betaine supplemented
    74.6% and 88.9% of choline, respectively,
    or conversely, 1.34 and 1.12 times more
    choline chloride and betaine must be
    supplemented to provide the same level
    of choline.
    Accounting for differences in the level
    of choline and betaine in commercial
    products, a feeding rate of 0.61 lb. of 70%
    choline chloride is equivalent to 1 lb. of
    38% betaine (Table 2).
    It is important to note that these
    calculations are based purely on the
    potential of both choline and betaine to
    act as methyl group donors and do not
    account for their biology within the bird.
    As described earlier, there are differences
    in the bioavailability and energetics of
    metabolism of choline and betaine.
    If one wants to compare the effi ciency
    of choline and betaine for sparing
    methionine, there must be suffi cient
    choline in the diet to meet the animal�s
    essential choline needs.
    This was tested in a recent broiler
    study by Dilger et al. (2007) in which
    betaine and graded levels of choline
    were supplemented in a purifi ed diet that
    contained no bioavailable choline. As
    supplemental choline was completely
    bioavailable, much lower levels of total
    choline were able to be supplemented
    compared to NRC requirements. When
    supplementing betaine at 1,000 ppm,
    the authors found that broiler growth
    was maximized if the diet contained 412
    ppm choline, indicating that this level of
    choline was suffi cient to meet essential
    In contrast, when no betaine was
    supplemented, broiler growth was
    maximized when the diet contained
    722 ppm choline. Therefore, 1,000 ppm
    betaine spared only 310 ppm of added
    This is a signifi cant fi nding as it
    indicated that supplemental choline
    was 3.2 times more effective than
    supplemental betaine at maximizing
    chick growth once the diet had suffi cient
    choline to meet essential functions.
    This aligns with the bioavailability and
    energetics of metabolism for choline and
    betaine discussed.
    Choline plays many important metabolic
    roles in poultry, and to maximize the
    bird�s growth or performance, the
    diet must contain choline. Although
    betaine can be used to spare some
    choline, betaine was recently reported
    to be less bioavailable and less effi cient
    at maximizing growth than choline
    supplementation alone.
    Finally, an analysis of choline in typical
    feedstuffs indicated that NRC tends to
    overestimate the choline content in some
    feed ingredients, suggesting that diets
    formulated strictly to NRC requirements
    may have inadequate levels of choline to
    maximize growth.
    References for this article can be obtained by
    e-mailing tlundeen@feedstuffs.com �

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    Sotero Lasap

    Dr. Ioannis in your opinion which is the better betaine source? Anhydrous or HCL? Is this relevant? Thank you.



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    Frans Bouvy

    Dear Ioannis, As supplier of (purified concentrated liquid) betaine we like to comment on your questions : we advise that betaine cannot replace methionine directly as an essential amino acid but it will prevent that methionine is used for other, non-essential purposes; so betaine saves methionine otherwise spoiled.
    In normal cereal/soy based diets for monogastrics betaine can replace all the added cholinechloride on a equimolecular basis or even less because the enzymatic transformation of choline into betaine is not without metabolic losses. By complete replacement of cholinechloride in the diet also one of the most aggressive additives is removed from the feed.
    The use of betaine as osmoprotectant, anti-stress factor and lipotropic agent asks for higher dosages then used for choline replacement in the range of 1000 to 2000 ppm in a complete ration at 88% DM.
    Under stress conditions betaine performs best; e.g. with feed changes like weaning and farrowing,to prevent or cure wet droppings, in a hot climate, during lack of drinking water, with an excess of minerals or salt,during gut infections with pathogenes and/or coccidiae, when animals have to perform heavily etc.
    For instance we found in field trials with piglets that in the first weeks after weaning betaine improves animal performance equally well as organic acids do.
    In practice, when betaine is used as osmoprotectant, anti-stress factor and lipotropic agent, we advise to combine betaine with other performance enhancing additives like organic acids,prebiotics, liberated yeast cell wall components,mcfa's, ethereal oils and the like.
    Thanks to the improvement of the fat and energy metabolism in the liver betaine reduces for instance also backfat thickness and drip los in pigs and increases breast meat yield in poultry.
    With ruminants betaine stabilizes the rumen microbes and especially the cellulolytic bacteria; furthermore with dairy cattle betaine reduces the incidence of fatty liver, ketosis and milk fever and combined with glycogenic compounds it reduces the negative energy balance, improves milk yield and fertility and reduces the cell count of the milk.
    Best regards,
    Frans Bouvy, Nutritionist at Jodoco NV, Belgium

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