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Choline: A Guide on What to Know

The science of nutrition is continually being revised as new evidence becomes available. The importance of choline is one such new development. Found in eggs, meat, and dairy, choline is an essential nutrient. Researchers have found that most people simply do not get enough choline in their diets. 

In fact, choline is a recent discovery. It was not until 1998 that the Institute of Medicine listed choline as an essential part of our diets. We are able to make some choline in our bodies, but it is important that we obtain more choline from foods. If we are not getting choline from what we eat, we need to take some type of supplement that contains choline. 

Vegans and vegetarians are most at risk for not getting enough choline since it cannot be obtained from a diet devoid of animal products. Health professionals strongly recommend that vegans and vegetarians take a choline supplement.

Since it is relatively recently that nutritionists and other health professionals recommend that we pay attention to choline intake, it seems important that people understand exactly what choline is. 

What precisely is choline? How does it function in our bodies? How much choline do we need? This guide will give you all the information you need on choline and how to ensure you are getting what you need to be healthy. 

What is Choline?

Choline is an essential nutrient that is naturally present in some foods. It is also available in a dietary supplement form. Choline is one of the central chemical components that maintain metabolic processes. Our bodies require choline in order to synthesize two of the major parts of cell membranes.

It turns out that all plants and animals require choline in order to maintain the structural integrity of the cells. For us, choline is also a crucial ingredient in the production of chemicals that make up things such as neurotransmitters for memory, mood, muscle control, and other brain and nervous system functions. 

Choline also plays a critical role in gene expression, the signals between cells, and the transport of nutrients within and between cells. These functions are especially important during early brain development. 

Our bodies make small amounts of choline in the liver however, we must obtain the majority of necessary choline from diet or some other source such as a supplement. 

A water-soluble compound, choline is neither a vitamin nor a mineral. It is often lumped into the category of B vitamins since it functions in ways analogous to several B vitamins. 

To summarize, choline plays an important role in liver function, brain development, muscle movement, the nervous system, and metabolism. It should be obvious just how crucial choline is to our overall health. 

Choline Functions in Your Body

As we see above, choline plays an important role in numerous critical body functions. The research that attends choline shows just how important choline functions in your body. Here is a list of the important functions of choline in the body.

Enhancing memory and cognition

Choline is essential for brain development. Researchers who studied over 2000 participants aged 70-74 found that those with high choline levels showed much higher cognitive functions than those who showed lower levels of choline. 

In another study, researchers found that people with low and inadequate levels of choline, along with vitamin C and zinc, showed poor memory capacity. This was especially pronounced in older men. 

Because choline has been so firmly linked to cognitive function and memory capacity, researchers have located choline within the set of criteria for evaluating and treating things like Alzheimer’s disease. 

Choline protects against age-related cognitive decline. By maintaining sufficient choline levels people can preserve neurons, brain size, and neural networks and this prevents memory loss in older people.  

Studies have linked brain abnormalities associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s at least in part to choline deficiency. Research has shown that higher choline intake protects against deterioration of the brains and enhances memory functions in older people. The reason for this is that choline is part of the chemical makeup of neurotransmitters. 

Specifically, choline helps produce one particular neurotransmitter that maintains the neural networks in the brain. These networks make the physical pathways for memory.  

Heart Health

A group of studies on African-American men showed that increased choline intake significantly reduced their risk of stroke. This study tracked men over the course of nine years and conclusively showed that elevated choline intake reduced the number of ischemic strokes. 

Enhanced metabolism

There is evidence to show that choline may help with metabolizing fats. A study in 2014 found that women who took choline supplements showed significantly lower body mass indexes (BMI). This group also had higher levels of the hormone leptin which controls body fat. 

Cut down the risk of complications during pregnancy

It is known that choline plays an important role in fetal development. Choline is essential for healthy early brain growth. But new evidence shows that choline can have a beneficial impact on pregnancy outcomes. 

One study showed that women who were given choline supplements of 93 mg per day in the third trimester of their pregnancies showed reduced markers of preeclampsia. These symptoms include high blood pressure and severe headaches.  

Getting enough dietary choline

As we see, choline is absolutely essential for our health in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, dietary developments in recent years have led people to inadvertently reduce the amount of choline they are getting in their diets. 

Fears about high cholesterol have led people to stop eating things like eggs, red meat, and cheese. As a result, people have reduced or eliminated the primary sources of dietary choline.

While health professionals once advised people to eliminate eggs, red meat, and dairy to cut own on cholesterol, they have since reversed this advice. We are now counseled to consume these foods in limited quantities. Part of the reason doctors and other professionals have taken a revised approach to these things is because of the critical need for choline in our diet. 

Vegetarians and vegans are at an even higher risk of choline deficiency. While they can get choline from non-animal sources like brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, wheat germ, peanuts, and many varieties of beans, these things simply do not provide enough choline to constitute healthy amounts. 

It is especially important for children to get proper amounts of choline. As we see above, choline plays a critical role in healthy brain development. Most infant formula contains large amounts of the daily requirements of most nutrients. However, many of them do not contain choline since the importance of choline was not recognized until 1998. 

While our bodies can make choline in small amounts, it is nowhere near enough. We must get choline from another source. 

Choline Dosage

If we are not getting enough choline from our diets, we can take choline supplements. Howe much choline you should take depends on your age and sex. Choline dosage also varies during pregnancy. Here is a general breakdown of choline doses.

Infants (0-6 months) 

Males: 125 mg per day Females: 125 mg per day

Infants (7-12 months)

Males: 150 mg per day Females: 150 mg per day

Children (1-3 years)

Males: 200 mg per day Females: 200 mg per day

Children (4-8 years)

Males: 250 mg per day Females: 250 mg per day

Children (9-13 years)

Males: 375 mg per day Females: 375 mg per day

Adolescents (14-18 years)

Males: 550 mg per day Females: 400 mg per day

Adults (19 years and older)

Males: 550 mg per day Females: 425 mg per day

Pregnancy (All ages)

Females: 450 mg per day

Breastfeeding (All ages)

Females: 550 mg per day

As you can see from this chart, choline demands vary over the course of our lifetime. Early childhood is especially sensitive as brain and nervous system development depends on having sufficient levels of choline in the body. Pregnancy and breastfeeding are equally sensitive for the same reasons. 

There are numerous choline supplements available at nutrition stores and online. Most contain roughly the same ingredients. Make certain the choline contained in these supplements is at the proper levels for what you should be taking. 

Choline supplements generally contain a chemical called CDP-choline and choline salts such as choline chloride and choline bitartrate. Some choline supplements contain choline derived from phosphatidylcholine. This does not provide the same amount of available choline as those that contain choline salts. If you are taking a supplement made from phosphatidylcholine, you would need to take over 4000 milligrams in order to obtain 550 milligrams of choline that your body can actually use. 

High doses of choline (above 10000 milligrams) have been shown to produce a fishy body odor, vomiting, salivation, and increased sweating. Do not take excess choline unless you are specifically advised under a doctor’s supervision. The ordinary use of choline supplement is perfectly safe and have no side effects. 

Choline FAQS

What is choline?

Choline is an essential nutrient that is neither a vitamin nor a mineral but is nevertheless essential for our health. 

Why have I never heard of choline?

Choline was not fully understood as an essential nutrient until 1998. 

What does choline do in the body?

Choline works with other vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to promote cellular integrity, brain and neuron growth, and transmits essential nutrients from cells to other parts of the body. 

What are some key benefits of choline?

Perhaps the most important benefit of choline is its effects on brain development. Choline helps the brain and the neurological system develop and sustain itself. 

What is choline used for?

Doctors have begun using choline as a supplement to help fight dementia and Alzheimer’s disease since it has been clinically shown to combat these problems. 

Can I get choline from food?

Yes, you can obtain all the choline you require from dietary sources. However, if your diet is restricted and you do not, or cannot, eat sufficient amounts of eggs, meat, and dairy, you will need to take a choline supplement? 

Are there people who should take extra measures to get enough choline?

Vegetarians and vegans generally cannot get enough choline from their diet. They should take a choline supplement. 

Is choline important for children?

Choline is especially crucial for children since it is instrumental in proper brain development. 

How much choline should I take in a supplement?

The recommended doses of choline are dependent on age and gender. Consult this guide or talk to your doctor to see how much choline supplement you should take. 

Are choline supplements safe?

Yes. If choline supplements are taken within the recommended doses, choline has no side effects. 

Wrapping things up

It is possible you never heard of choline before reading this guide. Given that it was not until 1998 that doctors and nutritionists knew the significance of choline, this should not be surprising. As medical science continues to explore the ways foods and nutrition work in our bodies, it also continues to make new discoveries about what exactly works in the various systems in our bodies. Choline is one of those discoveries. 

Not only is choline important, it is essential to one of the most vital aspects of our physical health: our brain and nervous system. Choline is critical to proper brain function and brain development. In developing infants and in young children, insufficient choline can be devastating. At the other end of life, choline is necessary to promote brain function and enhance memory. For people with debilitating illnesses that cause dementia, choline can help restore or at least preserve memory and brain function. 

But choline is also important for the structural integrity of the cells in our bodies. The very structure of cells depends on the chemical processes that require choline. Though choline itself is neither a vitamin nor a mineral, it is one of the most essential nutrients for our overall health. 

Our bodies make choline, but not enough to maintain proper health. Luckily, we can obtain enough choline from our diet to be healthy. In addition, there are numerous choline supplements that will make it possible to remain healthy. 

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