What is Choline?
Choline assists in controlling your weight as well as cholesterol levels, keeping cell membranes healthy and in preventing gallstones. It is also most useful in the maintenance of the nervous system, assisting memory and learning, and may help to fight infections, including hepatitis and AIDS. Choline is critical for normal membrane structure and function.
Choline is a chemical similar to the B-vitamins, and is often lumped in with them, although it is not (yet) an "official" B-vitamin. Although its entire mechanism of action, particularly how it interacts with other nutrients, is not completely understood, it seems to often work in concert with folate and an amino acid called methionine. Although the human body can make some choline it is generally recognized that it is important to get dietary choline as well.
Choline is the major precursor of betaine, and it is used by the kidneys to maintain water balance and by the liver as a source of methyl-groups for methionine formation. It is also used to produce the important neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
It assists in nerve impulse transmission, gallbladder regulation, liver functions and lecithin production.
Choline Chloride, concentrations of which are found in the tissues of the nervous system, is necessary for brain function, the synthesis of neurotransmitters, and for the building and maintenance of acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine, in turn, aids sleep, memory, and the thought processes; it also helps control movement.
Because our Choline production decreases with age, it can lead to memory loss, and impaired learning and cognitive skills.
Choline Chloride and Health:
Choline, by increasing the brain’s stimulation barriers, lets the brain filter out minor noises, so may be helpful in reducing sleep problems. And it may enhance problem-solving skills and concentration.
Choline also helps, especially in post- menopausal women, maintain moist mucous membranes. Choline works with Inositol to emulsify fats, making it less likely that they will be deposited on the walls of the arteries, or in the gall bladder.
Phosphatidyl choline transports fats to cells so they can either be used by the body, or excreted.
Choline chloride, taking during pregnancy, may increase the unborn infant’s life-long ability to learn and pay attention, and its memory capacity. Could choline work for ADHD children?
Choline may also aid in treating liver disease and high cholesterol, depression, memory loss, Alzheimer’s, and asthma. And it is an anti-inflammatory.
Those who do strenuous exercise, because choline is used io metabolize of fats, may drastically reduce their choline levels, as the body draws energy from its fat reserves.
A choline deficient diet may result in increased rates of cancer, especially liver carcinoma.
Choline works best if it is taken with folic acid; folic acid reduces the need for choline in methylation, and the less choline that is used for methylation, the more choline is available to be used by the nervous system.
What are the Benefits of Choline?
Choline serves various functions in our bodies – in the structure of cell membranes, protecting our livers from accumulating fat, as the precursor molecule for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and more. Because of rapid development in fetuses and infants, we have a great need for choline in our early lives. Human milk has high levels of choline.
Choline started to get the interest of nutrition researchers when it was found that fetal rats whose mothers didn't get enough choline in their diets had less brain development and poorer memories after birth than those whose mothers ate adequate amounts of the nutrient. Over the past few years, there has been a rush of research, and there are now hints that choline may be essential not only for the brain development of fetuses and infants, but may help prevent memory loss associated with aging (although attempts to reverse cognitive decline have been disappointing).
Choline has been shown to protect the liver from certain types of damage, and can help reverse damage that has already occurred. Additionally, it may help lower cholesterol and homocysteine levels associated with cardiovascular disease, and may also help protect against some types of cancers. This is an area where more research is needed, but there are some positive first signs.
What are Good Sources of Choline?
Until 2004, when the USDA published a database of choline in foods, we only had scattered studies to go on. This more systematic study has revealed some surprises, notably that there is less choline in many foods than previously thought.
Although most foods have at least a little choline, some people may have to pay more close attention to get enough in their diets, particularly if they do not eat many whole eggs.
Here are some examples of foods that are particularly high in choline, taken from the USDA’s Database for Choline in Foods:
Beef liver - pan-fried - 100 grams (about 3.5 oz) - 418 mg
Whole large egg - 112 mg choline
Beef (ground) 80% lean/20% fat - 3.5 oz patty - 81 mg
Cauliflower - 3/4 C cooked (1" pieces) - 62 mg
Navy beans - 1/2 C cooked - 48 mg
Tofu - 100 grams (about 3.5 oz) - 28 mg
Almonds - sliced - 1/2 cup - 26 mg
Peanut butter - 2 T - 20 mg
For me, one of the important messages of choline (and other recently-discovered nutrients) is that we are still learning so much about nutrition. This emphasizes the importance of eating a variety of whole foods, so we will be less likely to miss out on some yet-to-be-discovered nutrients.
Is it Possible to Get Too Much Choline?
Actually, yes. The Tolerable Upper Intake level for adults has been set at 3.5 grams (3500 mg) per day. Above this, adverse effects can include low blood pressure, diarrhea, and fishy body odor.
How Much Choline Do We Need?
An RDA for choline has not been established, but the National Academy of Sciences recommends the following for "adequate intake" of choline. The information in this table (and much of the information in this article) was taken from Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline by The National Academies Press
Recommended Choline Intakes (AI=Adequate Intake)
Age Daily AI
Infants 0-6 mos 125 mg.
7-12 mos 150 mg
Children 1-3 yrs 200 mg
4-8 yrs 250 mg
Boys 9-13 yrs 375 mg
14-18 yrs 550 mg
Girls 9-13 yrs 375 mg
14-18 yrs 440 mg
Men 550 mg
Women 425 mg
Pregnant 450 mg
Lactating 550 mg
Jarrow Citicholine CDP Choline