Betaine’s role in osmoprotection

Osmoregulation is the ability of a cell to maintain its structure and function by controlling the movement of water into and out of the cell, without altering mitochondrial cellular metabolism. Changes in cellular water volume can affect intracellular ionic strength and, consequently, the conformation of proteins and enzymes. Therefore, cell homeostasis is important when exposed to different stress conditions. This osmoprotective function of betaine is important in poultry farming, since broiler chickens are animals sensitive to changes in temperature, being extremely susceptible to heat stress.

Organic osmolytes are soluble molecules that, in contrast to inorganic salts, can reach high intracellular concentrations without altering cell functions. Betaine is considered the most effective osmoprotectant among other organic osmolytes. In animals, the known effects are on mammalian kidney cells, small intestine, cecum, cloaca and avian embryonic fibroblasts.

Part of the body’s energy is destined to maintain the osmotic balance of cells and it is estimated that a large part of the maintenance energy is associated with the sodium-potassium pump mechanism. Therefore, water is considered an important nutrient that affects numerous physiological functions. By adding betaine to feed, energy, previously spent on cellular maintenance, is used for other metabolic processes of production and growth.

In pigs during the growth phase, around 40 to 50% of the maintenance energy is spent on maintaining the osmotic balance in the intestine and other viscera. By adding betaine and reducing maintenance energy requirements by improving osmoprotection, nutrient absorption and animal performance can be optimized. In poultry farming, the gastrointestinal tract of chickens is the system that suffers the most aggression when physiological disorders caused by pathogens occur, mainly by protozoa of the genus Eimeria. These disorders can result in decreased absorption of nutrients in the intestine, increased feed conversion, reduced growth rate and lower chicken performance. In the intestinal epithelium, betaine contributes to water balance and maintains cellular activity, even in the presence of pathogens, enabling the absorption of nutrients in challenging situations.

-By Zelal Alsaftli (Hama University Salamiyah, Hama Governorate, Syria)