Choline is an essential water-soluble vitamin that is often classified together with the B vitamins. It performs a variety of important functions, including being an integral part of cell membranes, a raw material for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and a donor for methyl groups required by a number of vital processes in the body. While the liver can produce some choline, much of the amount required by the body is still obtained from various food sources in the diet. If you are a man, the recommended daily choline intake is 550 mg; if you are a woman, it is 425 mg. Here are four benefits of this vitamin:
1. Brain Health
Phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin are lipid molecules derived from choline that act as insulators for the electrical circuitry of the nervous system. In the absence of these insulators, the transmission of electrical signals in nerves will slow down and billions of neurons will short-circuit. A large fraction of the central nervous systemâ€™s total weight is made up of these two molecules.
Acetylcholine is another important brain substance synthesized using choline. One of the most important neurotransmitters in the body, acetylcholine, transmits signals from the brain and spinal cord to muscles, glands, the heart and lungs, and the entire gastrointestinal tract. Acetylcholine is essential in maintaining consciousness and in normal memory development.
Highlighting the importance of choline in normal brain health and development is a study on the offspring of rats fed a choline-deficient diet. Researchers found that rats whose mothers did not get enough choline in their diet had poorer memories and brain development than rats whose mothers ate a lot of choline. In the past few years, choline has also been implicated to help prevent memory loss associated with aging. While folate is the nutrient classically thought to prevent neural tube defects, protective roles of choline are also increasingly being uncovered.
2. Liver Health
Choline is necessary in removing excess cholesterol and fats from the liver. If your diet is deficient in choline, fat droplets will accumulate in your liver, a condition known as hepatosteatosis. Adequate intake of choline not only helps prevent hepatosteatosis, but is also thought to reverse the damage once it occurs.
3. Pregnancy Health
Aside from ensuring normal nervous system development in the developing fetus, choline is also found to help prevent congenital heart defects in the young.
4. Inflammation Reduction
Studies have found that levels of inflammatory makers, including C-reactive protein, interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha, are up to 20 percent lower if you consume the highest amounts of choline in your diet. Homocysteine, another marker of inflammation, is also reduced by high dietary consumption of choline. It is believed that the function of choline as a methyl donor is responsible for degrading homocysteine and for turning off different regions of DNA that are responsible for expressing inflammatory markers.
High levels of these inflammatory markers are associated with a wide range of illnesses including atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimerâ€™s disease and cognitive impairments, osteoporosis and a variety of cancers. Adequate intake of choline is, thus, protective.