Choline - An Essential Nutrient With Many Benefits

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VB Health
July 25, 2023

What Is Choline?

Choline is an essential compound necessary for normal bodily function and human health.

It's neither a vitamin nor a mineral but it's often grouped with the vitamin B complex due to its similarities. In fact, this essential nutrient affects a number of vital bodily functions, including liver function, healthy brain development, muscle movement, nervous system maintenance, and metabolism.

Functions in Your Body

Choline plays a crucial role in several important processes within your body:

  • Cell structure: It aids in the formation of fats that support the structural integrity of cell membranes.
  • Cell messaging: Choline is involved in the production of compounds that act as cell messengers.
  • Fat transport and metabolism: Choline is essential for creating a substance necessary for removing cholesterol from your liver. Inadequate choline may result in fat and cholesterol buildup in your liver.
  • DNA synthesis: Along with other vitamins like B12 and folate, choline helps with a process that’s crucial for DNA synthesis.
  • Healthy nervous system: Choline is required to make acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. It’s involved in memory, muscle movement, regulating heartbeat and other basic functions.

Uses & Effectiveness

Improving memory and cognition

Choline plays a crucial role in cognitive function because it is a precursor for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in many functions including memory and muscle control.

Several studies indicate that dietary supplements containing choline may improve memory and cognition. However, more research is needed to confirm these effects and to understand the optimal choline dosage for cognitive health.

Choline plays an important role in memory and cognition.

Protecting heart health

Choline, in conjunction with other nutrients like folate and B vitamins, helps lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is associated with heart disease when present in high concentrations. By aiding in the conversion of homocysteine to other substances, choline may contribute to heart health.

More research is required to determine the exact effects of choline on heart health and whether choline supplements could be recommended as a part of heart disease prevention or treatment strategies.

Reducing the risk of pregnancy complications

Choline intake during pregnancy has been associated with a reduced risk of neural tube defects and potential enhancements in cognitive development in offspring.

The importance of choline during pregnancy is reflected in the increased recommended daily intake for pregnant women, which is 930 mg/day.

Choline may reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy.

Cognitive Function

Choline plays a vital role in cognitive function throughout all stages of life.

In early life, it aids in the development of the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory and learning.

In older adults, choline may help maintain cognitive function and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and diseases like Alzheimer's.

Brain Development

The role of choline in brain development begins even before birth.

It is critical in the development of the brain and spinal cord during pregnancy and continues to be important as the child grows, particularly in the development of the memory center of the brain. Higher choline intakes during pregnancy have been linked to improved cognitive function in children.

Improving cystic fibrosis symptoms

Preliminary research suggests that people with cystic fibrosis may have lower levels of choline, and that choline supplementation may improve lung function and liver health in these individuals.

However, more research is needed to confirm these findings and understand how choline may be used in the management of cystic fibrosis.

Dietary Choline Intake

The Institute of Medicine has set adequate intake (AI) values for choline, which are intended to be sufficient for most healthy individuals and to help them avoid negative consequences of deficiency, such as liver damage.

Recommended AI values of choline for different age groups:

Age GroupCholine Intake per Day (Male)Choline Intake per Day (Female)
0-6 months125 mg125 mg
7-12 months150 mg150 mg
1-3 years200 mg200 mg
4-8 years250 mg250 mg
9-13 years375 mg375 mg
14-18 years550 mg400 mg (450 mg during pregnancy, 550 mg during lactation)
19+ years550 mg425 mg (450 mg during pregnancy, 550 mg during lactation)

Choline Deficiency

Choline deficiency can cause harm, particularly for your liver.

One study found that a significant proportion of adults experienced liver and/or muscle damage after going on a choline-deficient diet. Choline is particularly important during pregnancy, as a low intake may increase the risk of neural tube defects in unborn babies and other pregnancy complications.

Despite the fact that most Americans do not consume adequate amounts of choline in their diets, actual deficiency is rare.

At-Risk Populations

Certain individuals are at an increased risk for choline deficiency:

  • Endurance athletes: Their levels of choline fall during long endurance exercises, such as marathons.
  • People with high alcohol intake: Alcohol can increase choline requirements and the risk of deficiency, especially when intake is low.
  • Postmenopausal women: Estrogen aids in choline production in the body. Therefore, postmenopausal women, who typically have lower estrogen levels, may be at a greater risk of deficiency.
  • Pregnant women: Choline requirements increase during pregnancy due to the unborn baby requiring choline for development.

Dietary Sources of Choline

Choline can be obtained from various foods and supplements.

Food sources:

Food SourceAmount of Choline
Beef Liver (2.4 oz or 68 grams)290 mg
Chicken Liver (2.4 oz or 68 grams)222 mg
1 Large Hard-boiled Egg113 mg

Health Guide

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