4 Health and Dietary Benefits of Choline

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 system’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, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairments, osteoporosis and a variety of cancers. Adequate intake of choline is, thus, protective.


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  • marian

    Funny, this came out the same day as your article.

    New Link Between Common Fat, Gut Bacteria and Heart Disease Discovered
    A new Cleveland Clinic study finds people who eat a diet containing the common nutrient choline, which is found in animal products like eggs, liver or fatty fish, are not pre-disposed to heart disease by genetics alone. It’s also how your body breaks down choline that increases your risk.
    Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, of Cleveland Clinic’s departments of Cardiovascular Medicine and Cell Biology, led the study that appeared in the journal Nature.
    “What we find is the level of choline in our diet is actually directly related to someone’s heart risk,” says Dr. Hazen, who heads the Section of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation. Choline comes from the compound lecithin—found in many commercially baked goods, dietary supplements and even children’s vitamins.
    The study examined clinical data from 1,875 patients who were referred for cardiac evaluation, as well as plasma samples from mice. When fed to mice, lecithin and choline were converted to a heart-disease forming product by the microscopic organisms that reside in our intestines, or “gut flora.” This promoted fatty plaque deposits to form within arteries (called atherosclerosis). In humans, higher blood levels of choline and the heart disease-forming microorganism products are strongly associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk.
    “When two people both eat a similar diet but one gets heart disease and the other doesn’t, we currently think the cardiac disease develops because of their genetic differences; but our studies show that is only part of the equation,” Dr. Hazen explains. “Actually differences in gut flora metabolism of the diet from one person to another appear to have a big effect on whether one develops heart disease. Gut flora is a filter for our largest environmental exposure—what we eat.”
    The study also found that while choline is considered a natural semi-essential vitamin, getting too much of this B-complex vitamin promoted atherosclerosis.
    “Over the past few years, we have seen a huge increase in the addition of choline into multivitamins—even in those marketed to our children—yet it is the same substance that our study shows the gut flora can convert into something that has a direct, negative impact on heart disease risk by forming an atherosclerosis-causing by-product,” Dr. Hazen says.
    He recommends checking your vitamin supplements (especially those marketed to increase brain health, weight loss and/or muscle growth) for choline, as well as watching what you eat.
    “Follow a diet that’s low in fat,” he recommends. “And so animal products such as meat, eggs, cheese, liver, certain fatty fish – these are all high sources of this pre-cursor that can lead to heart disease.”
    Dr. Hazen says this new knowledge may lead to advances in both prevention and treatment of heart disease.
    “These studies suggest we can we can intelligently design a heart healthy yogurt or other form of probiotic for preventing heart disease in the future. It also appears there is a need for considering the risks vs. benefits of some commonly used supplements.”
    Dr. Hazen’s research is funded by a $3.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.