Information About Choline

Choline is an essential nutrient that can be found naturally in certain foods and available as a dietary supplement. Choline is a source of methyl groups needed for many steps in metabolism.

Humans can produce choline endogenously in the liver, mostly as phosphatidylcholine, but the amount that the body naturally synthesizes is not sufficient to meet human needs and as a result, humans must obtain some choline from the diet, also, all plant and animal cells need choline to preserve their structural integrity.

Some athletes also use this nutrient for bodybuilding and delaying fatigue during endurance sports.

The main dietary sources of choline in the United States consist primarily of animal-based products that are particularly rich in choline – meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs.

The Bottom Line – Choline is an essential nutrient found naturally in the body but not in sufficient amounts.

Choline Health Benefits

Choline has been used for liver disease, including chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis. It can also be used for depression, memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Huntington’s chorea, Tourette’s disease, and a mental condition called schizophrenia.

Below is a list of the possible benefits we’ve found:

Choline may reduce the risk of Cardiovascular Peripheral Artery Disease

Some researchers have suggested that choline might protect cardiovascular health by reducing blood pressure, altering lipid profiles, and reducing levels of plasma homocysteine. Other research also suggests that higher dietary choline might increase cardiovascular disease risk because some choline and other dietary ingredients, such as carnitine, are converted to trimethylamine (TMA) by intestinal bacteria. The TMA is then absorbed and converted by the liver into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), a substance that has been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease [1].

Large studies suggest that while Choline may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in some scenarios, it appears to be a multifaceted and complex process in order to determine exactly when this nutrient can actively reduce the risk of such CVD events.

Although dietary intakes of choline and betaine were not significantly associated with CVD incidence, the long-term consumption of these nutrients has been shown to prevent CVD mortality by decreasing inflammation and other risk factors.

Choline may help with Neurological disorders

People with Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of the enzyme that converts choline into acetylcholine in the brain. In addition, because phosphatidylcholine can serve as a phospholipid precursor, it might help support the structural integrity of neurons and thus might promote cognitive function in elderly adults. Some experts have therefore theorized that consuming higher levels of phosphatidylcholine could reduce the progression of dementia in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

It must be noted that while there is a small amount of evidence to support the neurological benefits of Choline, the general consensus appears to show that it may, in fact, have a very small impact on Neurological conditions and disorders [2].

Choline may help with Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

NAFLD involves the accumulation of lipids in the livers of people who consume less than 20 g/day ethanol and who have no other known causes of steatosis. (A single drink [e.g., 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, or 1.5 oz hard liquor] contains about 12–14 g alcohol.) It is the most common chronic liver disorder, present in up to 65% of overweight individuals and 90% of those with obesity. NAFLD can also lead to steatohepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.

Data from a single large observational study support a link between choline deficiency and risk of NAFLD. Specifically, a cross-sectional study of 56,195 Chinese adults aged 40–75 years found an inverse relationship between dietary choline intakes and risk of NAFLD based on 24-hour dietary recall.

The risk of NAFLD was 32% lower in women in the highest quintile of choline intake (412 mg/day) compared to the lowest (179 mg/day) and 25% lower in men in the highest (452 mg/day) quintile compared to those in the lowest quintile (199 mg/day). However, choline intake was associated with NAFLD in normal-weight women only and not in those who were overweight or obese. This difference by weight status was not observed in men.

Adequate choline intake is needed for proper liver function and to prevent NAFLD, but more research is needed to further clarify the role of choline in preventing or treating NAFLD. [3]

How To Use Choline

Choline is found in a wide range of foods and can also be purchased in pill form as a supplement

The most common methods of taking Choline are:

  1. Foods
  2. Capsule

An average diet supplies 200-600 mg of choline daily.

Adequate Intake (AI) for adults, as established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Institute of Medicine, is 550 mg per day for men and breast feeding women and 425 mg per day for women pregnant women (450 mg per day if you’re pregnant).

For children, the AI depends on age:

  • For infants less than 6 months, the AI is 125 mg per day
  • For infants between 7-12 months, the AI 150 mg per day
  • For children between 1-3 years, the AI is 200 mg per day
  • For children between 4-8 years, the AI is 250 mg per day
  • For children between 9-13 years, the AI is 375 mg per day

Note: Choline supplements are not suitable for infants as there’s a risk of choking.

Which Foods Contain Choline?

The following foods contain between 350 to 50 milligrams of Choline:

  • Beef
  • Liver
  • Egg
  • Soy Beans
  • Chicken Breast
  • Shiitake Mushrooms
  • Potatoes
  • Wheat Germ
  • Kidney Beans
  • Quinoa
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli

Choline Side Effects List

Side effects usually only occur from excessive amounts of Choline, and can include:

  • Drops in blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Fishy body odor
  • Diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting

Note: these side effects are possible but may not be the typical user experience.

Is Choline Safe?

High intakes of choline are associated with a fishy body odor, vomiting, excessive sweating and salivation, hypotension, and liver toxicity.

Choline consumption has been shown to increase production of TMAO, a substance that has been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, in a dose-dependent manner in adults.

  • If you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding: Consult a medical professional.
  • If you’re a child under the age of 18: Consult a medical professional.

Has Choline Been Linked To Any Deaths?

Choline has not been linked to any deaths.

The Bottom Line – Choline is essential for your health and you should make sure your daily intake meets the recommended guidelines.

Where Can I Buy Choline & Do I Need A Prescription?

Choline is found in foods and can be purchased as a supplement without prescription.

Conclusion

Choline is an essential nutrient required by the body in order to function properly. While it is naturally produced by the liver, the human body does not produce a sufficient amount of Choline and thus, an individual must ensure they are consuming an appropriate amount of Choline from food sources.

Beth Coats, RD LN
Beth Coats, RD LN
Staff Writer at DietProbe
Beth is a registered dietician with over 20 years experience in general nutrition.
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