Choline stands as an essential nutrient, naturally occurring in a variety of foods and synthesized in limited quantities by the liver. It is imperative for the maintenance of cellular structure in both plant and animal organisms.
Why is it important to eat foods rich in Choline?
Choline could be considered as another member of the B vitamin complex. Despite the fact that humans can synthesize it in small amounts, you must consume it through your diet to get enough. The need to include it in our diet was demonstrated in a study of healthy men who developed liver damage when fed a choline-deficient diet.
Choline has several vital functions in the body. It reduces chronic inflammation and lowers homocysteine (which is linked to cardiovascular diseases). In addition, it is a precursor for an important neurotransmitter involved in muscle control and memory (acetylcholine). Another of its metabolites, phosphatidylcholine, is necessary to prevent fatty liver. Choline is especially necessary during pregnancy as it is essential for fetal brain development, learning and memory; but it can improve cognitive function and memory at all ages.
Recommendations by life stage and gender
Most of us aren’t meeting the recommended daily intake of choline (only 1 out of 10 Americans). Given the importance of choline in conditions such as liver disease, atherosclerosis and neurological disorders, we have to try to eat more choline-rich foods to reach an adequate intake.
|Adequate Intake (AI) for Choline|
|Adults||19 years and older||550||425|
Source:Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine
* Excessive doses (over 3500 mg in adults) can cause intestinal problems, and there is also some concern that high doses can be carcinogenic.
Needs for Choline in Pregnancy and Nursing
It is known that folate is critical between the 21st and 27th days after conception, for normal embryonic development, and maternal supplementation with folic acid decreases the incidence of neural tube defects such as anencephaly or spina bifida. Now we also know that choline also play an essential role to prevent birth defects in newborns (like folate, it is also a methyl group donor), so it may one day be recommended for all pregnant women in the way folic acid is today.
But choline is not only important during the first month of pregnancy, as it can also lower the stress hormone Cortisol in utero during the rest of the pregnancy. Babies exposed to high levels of cortisol in utero, such as might occur if a woman is under stress, anxiety or suffering from depression, have an increased risk of stress-related and metabolic disorders. A proper intake of choline could protect the baby later in life from some chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome (type 2 diabetes, blood pressure…) but also from certain mental health disorders.
The current recommendation for pregnant women is 450 milligrams of choline a day, but there is a new study that indicates that this may not be enough. This study found that the consumption of 930 mg of choline in the third trimester of pregnancy was linked to a 33% lower concentration of cortisol, compared to those who consumed 430 mg a day.
If you are lactating your requirements increase in 125 mg a day (total = 550 mg), as a substantial amount of choline is secreted in breast milk.
Keep in mind that most prenatal vitamins do not contain choline. Check the label.
Choline is found in a wide variety of foods. Eggs and meats are very good sources, providing up to 430 milligrams per 100 grams. Choline is found exclusively in the egg’s yolk, and two yolks contain about 250 milligrams of choline, or roughly half the recommended daily supply.
Other good sources are peanuts, milk, cauliflower… Lecithins added during food processing may increase the daily consumption of choline up to 115 mg/day.
If you are a vegan who does not consume any animal foods, you may be at risk of deficiency.
|Food||Serving||Total Choline (mg)|
|Beef liver, pan fried||3 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards)||355|
|Wheat germ, toasted||1 cup||172|
|Beef, trim cut, cooked||3 ounces||67|
|Brussel sprouts, cooked||1 cup||63|
|Broccoli, cooked, chopped||1 cup||62|
|Milk, skim||8 fl oz.||38|
|Peanut butter, smooth||2 tablespoons||20|
You can find it as choline chloride or choline bitartrate. Phosphatidylcholine supplements provide only 13% choline, so for example, if the supplement contain 4230 mg of phosphitidylcholine, it means that it provides 550 mg of choline.
Commercial lecithin is about 23% phosphatidylcholine, which only contains about 13% choline. Thus, lecithin supplements has less choline than the phosphatidylcholine supplements.
One of the problems with lecithin supplementation is its susceptibility to becoming rancid because of its high content in fat. That’s why after opening it should be refrigerated.
Warning for pregnant women: In some stores you can only find choline supplements which include Inositol, which has been documented to cause uterine contractions because it has an intimate relationship with oxytocin, a key uterine stimulator, making it potentially dangerous for the risk of causing miscarriage.