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) Choline and 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) Choline and 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) Choline and 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.
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:
- memory problems
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)
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.
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.
Should You Use Choline Supplements?
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.
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