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Choline

What You Need to Know About Choline

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Updated May 15, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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).

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

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

1) Memory

Studies show that choline is needed for the normal development of the brain and for memory enhancement. 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.

2) Heart Health

Preliminary research suggests that choline may enhance heart health. For instance, a 2005 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that choline deficiency may lead to increased levels of homocysteine (an amino acid linked to heart disease).

3) 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.

Dosage

Although the daily requirement for choline is unknown, many medical experts recommend that adults aim for 425 mg of choline per day. Additionally, increasing choline intake to 550 mg per day during pregnancy and lactation is typically recommended.

Signs of Choline Deficiency

Choline deficiency may produce a number of symptoms, including:

In cases of severe choline deficiency, people may experience liver dysfunction, infertility, high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries (a condition called atherosclerosis). Choline deficiency may also increase your risk for heart disease.

Food Sources of Choline

To increase your choline intake, include these foods in your diet:

  • wheat germ (172 mg choline per cup)
  • eggs (126 mg choline per large egg)
  • Atlantic cod (71 mg choline per 3 ounces)
  • brussel sprouts (63 mg choline per cup)
  • broccoli (62 mg choline per cup)
  • salmon (56 mg choline per 3 ounces)
  • skim milk (38 mg choline per 8 ounces)

Side Effects of Choline Supplements

When taken in high doses, choline can cause certain side effects (including nausea and loss of appetite). A high intake of choline may also lead to increased body temperature.

Where to Find Choline Supplements

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

Using Choline Supplements

Choline chloride and choline bitartrate (two types of choline salts) are available in supplement form. Although phosphatidylcholine supplements and lecithin supplements also provide choline, these tend to contain small amounts of the nutrient.

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. 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.

Sources

Caudill MA. "Pre- and postnatal health: evidence of increased choline needs." J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Aug;110(8):1198-206.

da Costa KA, Gaffney CE, Fischer LM, Zeisel SH. "Choline deficiency in mice and humans is associated with increased plasma homocysteine concentration after a methionine load." Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Feb;81(2):440-4.

Fischer LM, daCosta KA, Kwock L, Stewart PW, Lu TS, Stabler SP, Allen RH, Zeisel SH. "Sex and menopausal status influence human dietary requirements for the nutrient choline." Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 May;85(5):1275-85.

Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Research for Optimum Health. "Choline." August 18, 2009.

Ueland PM. "Choline and betaine in health and disease." J Inherit Metab Dis. 2011 Feb;34(1):3-15.

Zeisel SH. "Choline: critical role during fetal development and dietary requirements in adults." Annu Rev Nutr. 2006;26:229-50.

Zeisel SH. "Choline: needed for normal development of memory." J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Oct;19(5 Suppl):528S-531S.

Zeisel SH. "Nutritional importance of choline for brain development." J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Dec;23(6 Suppl):621S-626S.

Zeisel SH, da Costa KA. "Choline: an essential nutrient for public health." Nutr Rev. 2009 Nov;67(11):615-23.

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