Maternal diet supplemented with betaine while breastfeeding may decrease the risk of childhood obesity

Cristina Garrido



The betaine, a nutrient present in foods such as whole grains, spinach, beets or quinoa and that, in addition, is naturally present in breast milk, I might have the key to prevent childhood obesity. Supplementing the mother’s diet with betaine during breastfeeding may lower the risk of her child becoming overweight in childhood. This is the main conclusion of a study published in the journal “Science Translational Medicine” in which researchers from the CIBER on Obesity and Nutrition (CIBEROBN) have participated together with the Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute and the Sant Joan de Déu Hospital Barcelona .

The research team analyzed breast milk samples from two different population groups, one from the United States and the other from the Valencian Community, and found that one lower concentration of betaine in milk was associated with a faster growth during the first months of life, which is a risk factor for the development of childhood obesity.

To confirm whether supplementing breast milk with this nutrient could improve the metabolic health of the offspring, the researchers added a betaine supplement dissolved in the drinking water of lactating mother mice. “In this way, they transmitted betaine through milk to their offspring,” explains David Sánchez Infantes, a researcher at Ciberobn and the first co-signer of the study, to ABC Salud. They observed that supplementation increased the content of this nutrient in milk and moderated the growth of the offspring. In addition, in the long term, the offspring showed a reduction in their adiposity and inflammation markers, as well as an improvement in glucose metabolism during adulthood.

The researchers also observed a increased Akkermansia bacteria, which is associated with beneficial effects in the context of obesity and metabolic disorders, on the gut microbiota of the animals that had been fed on milk supplemented with betaine. The researchers found that the intestinal abundance of Akkermansia in the offspring was directly related to the betaine content in their mother’s milk.

“We also saw that, if we administered Akkermansia directly to mouse offspring during lactation, the long-term beneficial effects on obesity and health were similar to supplementing the maternal diet with betaine”, indicates Silvia Ribó, first co- signatory of the study.

The results observed in animal models were confirmed in the samples of the studied cohort. “The intestinal abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila in one-year-old boys and girls was directly related to the betaine content of their mothers’ milk,” says María Carmen Collado, from the IATA-CSIC.

After these results, the research group has already started a pilot clinical study to determine the beneficial effects of supplementing the maternal diet with betaine during lactation on both the growth curve of infants and their gut microbiota. In this case, the mothers ingest betaine extracted and purified from beets or a placebo as a supplement.

The profile of babies that could benefit from their mothers’ supplementation would be those at risk of childhood obesity. «Based on epidemiological data and on our results, a profile of mothers / babies who are candidates for betaine supplementation would be those parents who are already overweight or obese. We know that these babies are more predisposed to developing childhood obesity, therefore, they would be potential candidates to receive this supplementation during breastfeeding “, explains David Sánchez Infantes.

Another possible profile to study in betaine supplementation would be the babies born by cesarean section and those who receive formula milk. “In these cases, there are studies that show that these babies have a different microbiota, compared to babies who are born vaginally and who receive breast milk, which may be involved in the development of obesity and related metabolic disease. One possibility is supplementation with betaine in formula milk, since the intention of these formulas is to be as similar as possible to breast milk, ”continues the Ciberobn researcher.

Pending the results of the clinical study, we asked the investigator whether mothers should generally increase their dietary betaine intake while breastfeeding. Sánchez Infantes recalls that many studies show that the gestation and lactation periods are “windows of opportunity” to modulate potential metabolic risks. «The general recommendation would obviously be eat a healthy diet during these periods. And this includes the consumption of unprocessed foods (whole wheat grain, for example). AND many of these recommended foods are already high in betaine», He concludes.

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