What Is Choline and Why Does It Matter?
Let’s talk about choline.
Choline was first discovered back in 1862 by a chemist named Adolph Strecker, who was able to show that it was a key part of an egg yolk. However, during the 20th century, choline fell out of the spotlight as foods like egg yolks and organ meats grew unpopular. Additionally, when the medical establishment recommended that cholesterol be minimized, foods with choline took a hit.
By 1998, however, people had realized that choline was essential for health and that without it, your body can’t function properly.
The National Academy of Sciences designated choline as “essential” and suggested specific daily intakes in 1998. It’s called “essential” because, though the liver manufactures some choline, most people need to get it from foods to stay healthy.
Choline is an essential macronutrient that enables your liver, nerves, and metabolism to function properly. It also is critical for normal brain development in young children, maintaining proper energy levels, and supporting your overall health. It helps maintain the proper structure and integrity of your cell membranes, can help reduce inflammation, and supports the development of the fetus in pregnant women.
Kayla Grossman notes:
It is particularly important for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding to eat choline-rich foods, as this nutrient plays an important role in the fetal development of the brain and nervous system. Deficiency in pregnancy has been linked to long-term learning disability and memory problems in offspring. Choline also naturally occurs in breast milk, as young children require a substantial amount to support the formation of the nervous system, which continues at a high rate into the fourth year of life.
Choline is related to folate and other vitamins in the B vitamin complex family. In a similar fashion to B vitamins, choline supports both your energy levels and your brain function, as well as helping you maintain a healthy metabolism.
But perhaps most importantly, choline is central to the process of methylation, which is used in nerve signaling, creating DNA, and detoxification.
Bottom Line: You need choline in your body.
Because choline plays a central part in so many different processes within your bodies, it is essential that you maintain proper levels.
Without sufficient choline, your energy levels may falter, your metabolism may not work properly, and your nerve signaling may become faulty. Low levels of choline may also be associated with cardiovascular problems, cancer, cognitive decline, and bone fractures.
It should be noted, however, that the USDA hasn’t established a Daily Value Recommendation for choline. In light of this, it’s crucial to avoid choline deficiency.
How Do We Get Choline?
Your body produces some choline, but not enough to support all the necessary bodily functions. This means that you need to make up the difference through dietary support.
So how can you ensure you’re getting choline in your diet? Some foods that include choline are:
- Brussel sprouts
- Raw milk products
- Split peas
- Navy beans
- Chicken breasts
If you don’t currently have any of these foods in your diet, you almost certainly aren’t getting enough choline and should consider either changing your diet or taking a supplement.
How Much Choline Is Healthy?
As noted above, choline was only recently recognized as an essential nutrient, and as such, it is still being studied. However, most experts think the following amounts will give you all the benefits without creating any adverse side effects:
- Infants and babies: 125- 150 mg
- Children ages 1-8: 150- 250 mg
- Teens ages 8-13: 250- 375 mg
- Women above age 14: 425- 550 mg
- Men above age 14: 550 mg
- Pregnant women: 450-550 mg
- Women who are breastfeeding: 550 mg
It’s essential to note that the need for choline increases for women who are pregnant. Higher levels of choline ensure that the fetus develops properly and may minimize the risk of birth defects.
What About Supplements?
There is debate about whether taking higher levels of choline can improve overall brain function and memory. Brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s have been associated with lower levels of acetylcholine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that taking a choline supplement will prevent or treat those diseases. The tests are still ongoing and need to be verified before any firm conclusions can be made.
There is evidence, however, that choline can help treat people who have experienced strokes or other such brain trauma.
As the Linus Pauling Institute notes:
Many short-term intervention studies in older individuals with vascular diseases have found that therapeutic doses of citicoline given either orally, by intramuscular injection, or by intravenous infusion, resulted in improvements in neuropsychological functions, including cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functions.
If you or someone you love have experienced a stroke or any other brain trauma, taking choline supplements may speed up the recovery process. It’s possible that the supplements could help in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia, but it’s too early to be certain.
There have been reports suggesting that not all choline in food is able to be processed by the body, which in turn can lead to a choline deficiency. While this isn’t known for certain, taking a choline supplement will ensure you don’t encounter such a deficit.
If you take a supplement, look for one that is made from whole food sources and is of the highest quality. This will enable your body to absorb it most effectively.
How Do You Know If You Have A Choline Deficiency?
A large portion of people may have some form of choline deficiency. As Steven H. Zeisel notes:
At the time the AI for choline was established in 1998, it wasn’t known whether there were significant numbers of people who were choline deficient. It was known, however, that there were many who were folate deficient,1 which can impact choline status. There is now evidence that current choline recommendations may be suboptimal for a large percentage of the population.
These deficiencies can be caused both by choline-deficient diets as well as certain factors that cause people not to absorb sufficient choline.
And while it’s somewhat difficult to establish exactly how much choline a person should take each day, there are some general symptoms that can indicate a choline deficiency:
- Nerve damage
- Memory loss
- Overall cognitive decline
- Depleted energy and constant fatigue
- Abrupt mood changes and disorders
- Unusual muscle aches
If you have fatty liver disease (FLD), where triglyceride fat builds up in the liver cells, you also are at risk for a choline deficiency. FLD can be caused by excessive alcohol drinking, high obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, and any other disease that influences your body’s ability to metabolize fat.
If you are a vegetarian, you may also be at risk for a choline deficiency since choline is primarily present in animal products.
However, folate, which is found in leafy green vegetables and grains, can play a part in how much choline your body is able to produce on its own. Presumably, vegetarians are consuming large amounts of vegetables and thus may need less choline from their diet.
The bottom line is that if you’re a vegetarian, pay attention to your body for any indications that you might be suffering from a choline deficiency.
Given that choline is not technically a vitamin or mineral, it doesn’t get the same amount of publicity that something like vitamin C does. You don’t see drug companies putting choline in little packets that can take on the go when you feel like a cold is coming on.
But just like vitamin C, choline is essential to your health, and failing to get enough in your diet can lead to serious health complications.
Given that a large number of people don’t get enough choline in their diets, you may want to consider increasing the amount of choline-rich food you eat or taking a supplement to make up the difference.
Your body will thank you.
This article originally appeared here at https://www.vitamonk.com/blogs/health/what-is-choline-and-why-does-it-matter and has been republished with permission from https://www.vitamonk.com