The Benefits of Choline

What You Need to Know About Choline

Egg yolk is a source of choline

 

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Choline is a B vitamin and an essential nutrient. Choline plays an important role in a number of biological processes, including fat and cholesterol transport, energy metabolism, and cell and nerve signaling. In addition, choline is needed to produce acetylcholine (a brain chemical involved in memory and muscle control) and phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin (two structural components of cell membranes).

The body produces small amounts of choline, but choline must also be included in your diet in order to maintain health. Abundant in a number of foods, choline is also available in supplement form.

The Benefits of Choline

Here's a look at the research behind the health benefits of choline:

Cognitive Function

Studies suggest that choline is needed for the normal development of the brain and for memory enhancement. In an observational study, study participants with lower choline levels had poorer cognitive performance (measured by sensorimotor speed, executive function, perceptual speed, and global cognition) than participants with higher choline levels.

Heart Health

Although choline is sometimes said to enhance heart health, a large observational study published in Atherosclerosis in 2014 found no association between choline intake and risk of peripheral artery disease.

Liver Health

Not getting enough choline may harm your liver, according to a 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. For the study, 57 adults were fed a diet containing 550 mg of choline daily for 10 days. Next, the study members were fed a diet containing less than 50 mg of choline daily for up to 42 days. Study results revealed that, when deprived of dietary choline, 77 percent of men, 80 percent of postmenopausal women, and 44 percent of premenopausal women developed fatty liver or muscle damage.

Pregnancy

Choline may be necessary for the developing brain. In a 2010 report in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, for example, the author stated that increased consumption of choline-rich foods may be essential for women during pregnancy in order to ensure normal brain development in the fetus. What's more, animal-based research indicates that adequate choline intake in the first years of life can lead to lifelong memory enhancement.

Signs of Deficiency

Choline deficiency may produce a number of symptoms, including:

  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • memory problems
  • muscle damage

In cases of severe choline deficiency, people may experience liver damage and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Food Sources

The top dietary sources of choline in the United States include beef liver, eggs, beef, and soybeans. Other sources include fish, dairy products, chicken, mushrooms, potatoes, cruciferous vegetables, certain beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Here are some typical amounts found in common foods:

  • beef liver (356 mg per 3 ounces)
  • egg (147 mg choline per large egg)
  • beef top round (117 mg per 3 ounces)
  • chicken breast (72 mg per 3 ounces)
  • Atlantic cod (71 mg choline per 3 ounces)
  • Brussels sprouts (32 mg choline per 1/2 cup)
  • broccoli (31 mg choline per 1/2 cup)
  • milk 1% (43 mg choline per cup)
  • wheat germ (51 mg choline per ounce)

Recommended Intake

Although a daily requirement for choline hasn't been established, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine's guidelines for adequate intake recommend adult women aim for 425 mg of choline per day and adult men aim for 550 mg per day. Additionally, increasing choline intake to 450 mg per day during pregnancy and 550 mg per day during lactation is typically recommended.

Caveats

When taken in high doses, choline can cause certain adverse effects, including nausea, body odor, vomiting, increased body temperature, sweating, excessive salivation, low blood pressure, and liver damage.

Choline deficiency may lead to increased levels of homocysteine (an amino acid linked to heart disease), according to a study.

In a large observational study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2016, researchers found that high levels of phosphatidylcholine intake (from foods such as eggs, red meat, and fish) were associated with increased mortality, especially in those with diabetes.

In addition, it's important to note that using choline supplements in place of standard care for a chronic condition may have serious health consequences.

Where to Find It

Widely available for purchase online, choline supplements can also be found in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Choline bitartrate (a type of choline salt), phosphatidylcholine supplements, and lecithin supplements are available in supplement form.

A Word From Verywell

Most individuals can meet their daily choline needs through diet alone. If you're concerned about a possible choline deficiency, it's important to consult your physician.

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