And the surprising vegetable that can help you slam on the brakes
Along with turkey and yams, I encourage you to add some beets to your Thanksgiving dinner this year.
Why? Because beets are highly nutritious and contain a number of unique, biologically active compounds. In fact, beets are loaded with the cellular powerhouse betaine, aptly named since it was first isolated from beets.
And when it comes healthy aging, it’s hard to beat betaine.
Betaine, also known as TMG or trimethylglycine, is a type of amino acid made from choline—an essential nutrient that’s often grouped with the B vitamins.
It has remarkable ability to help protect cells against oxidation. And, as you know, oxidation is a culprit in all kinds of chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
But perhaps most unique are betaine’s effects on homocysteine.
The biology of betaine and homocysteine
Of course, the most well-known risks associated with elevated levels of homocysteine are heart attacks and strokes. But the dangers of excess homocysteine go far beyond your cardiovascular system.
You see, too much homocysteine can disrupt the body’s methylation process.
This is key because methylation helps control many important functions throughout your body. You need methylation for energy production, immune response, repairing cells damaged by free radicals, fighting inflammation, genetic expression and repair of DNA, detoxification, and even lowering your stress levels.
In short, virtually everything that helps you feel young and healthy relies on methylation.
Unfortunately, your body’s methylation capability can erode as you grow older. And, at the same time, your homocysteine levels can begin to creep up.
Although no absolutely “safe” level of serum homocysteine has been determined, research suggests that levels should be less than 12 mcmol/L—especially if you have other cardiovascular disease risk factors. 1,2
Ideally, studies show that homocysteine levels should be kept under 8.5 mcmol/L. But here’s the kicker: You probably have no idea if your homocysteine levels are too high because you generally won’t have any symptoms.
That’s why it’s important to have blood tests for homocysteine. And it’s also a good idea to get your vitamin levels tested, along with tests for genetic defects that could cause your body to produce excess homocysteine.
If your homocysteine levels are too high, getting the proper nutrients from your diet and supplements is the most effective way to reduce them.
And that’s key for healthy aging—including protection against heart attack and stroke.
How to feel younger, longer
I recommend the following daily supplement regimen to keep your homocysteine levels in check (and for overall good health).
These nutrients have been shown to either help keep your body from producing too much homocysteine, or help it metabolize and reduce homocysteine.
250 mg of alpha-GPC
250 mg of alpha-lipoic acid with biotin
100 mg of CoQ10 (ubiquinol)
3 grams of fish oil
200-400 mcg of selenium
500 mg of vitamin C (in two divided doses of 250 mg each)
200 mg of vitamin E (gamma E tocopherol/tocotrienols)
30 mg of zinc
I also recommend a high-quality B vitamin complex that contains at least 200 mcg of folate, 50 mg of B6, 12 mcg of B12, 50 mg of B2, and 50 mg of choline. Curcumin (200-900 mg a day) is also a potent, healthy addition to any diet.
And, of course, make sure to incorporate plenty of beets in your diet. You can eat them raw in salads, or cooked with any main course. They’re particularly healthy—and tasty—when cooked with garlic. If you’re not a fan of beets (or garlic), you can supplement with 2-4 grams of betaine a day.
Other supplements that can help you regulate homocysteine include micronized creatine (2-4 grams daily), lecithin (1-2 tablespoons of pure granules per day), serine (3-6 grams daily), N-acetyl-cysteine (600- 1,200 mg daily), and cysteine (500-1,000 mg daily).
To help repair any tissues that are affected by high homocysteine levels, along with the CoQ10, fish oil, alpha-lipoic acid, selenium, curcumin and vitamin C and E doses I mentioned above, I also recommend any or all of these nutrients and herbs:
- Garlic: 500-1,000 mg daily
- L-arginine: 500 mg daily
- Policosanol: 10 mg daily with evening meal
- Ginkgo extract: 120 mg daily
- Grape seed extract: 300 mg daily
- Green tea extract: 2 grams daily
- Bromelain: 500 mg daily
- Ginger: 10 grams daily
- Chromium: 200-400 mcg, once or twice daily
- Niacin (B3): 80-160 mg daily
- Pantethine (B5): 30 mg three times daily
A healthier use for beets
Historically, in marginally nourished populations living in climates that are relatively poor for crop cultivation, a “beet and potato” (versus the proverbial “meat and potato”) diet has been able to sustain people. For example, in Eastern Europe and Russia.
In the U.S., “beet and potato” agriculture is also important to the economy of certain states like Idaho.
Idaho has a relatively small, close-knit population, and I developed close contacts with many business and political leaders there 12 years ago.
Some of those people made huge fortunes from supplying potatoes to McDonald’s for French fries (which are simply a vehicle for unhealthy oils and excess calories). Others became wealthy by supplying beet sugar to food companies. But some were looking toward the future.
I told Idaho growers, as well as government agencies involved in agricultural and economic development, about manufacturing betaine from beets, instead of sugar. After all, people need a lot less sugar and a lot more betaine. Plus, I calculated that, pound per pound, betaine is priced over 10,000 times higher than sugar.
Former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and his staff showed strong interest. They understood that sugars and carbs represent the past, and that growing healthy plant constituents like betaine represents the future. But then the good senator got caught in an airport literally with his pants down (although I never really understood what that had to do with anything). And, as a result, nothing ever came of my betaine suggestion.
It’s a shame, because as more and more public health experts come around to the realization that sugar and carbs are driving the obesity, diabetes, and heart disease epidemics, the business of making sugar and French fried potatoes is starting to dry up.
And betaine could have been a real “rainmaker” to keep Idaho growers in the green.
1“Plasma total homocysteine, B vitamins, and risk of coronary atherosclerosis.” Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 1997 May;17(5):989-95.
2“The kidney and homocysteine metabolism.” J Am Soc Nephrol. 2001 Oct;12(10):2181-9.