Choline is not a vitamin or a mineral, but it is an essential nutrient. Although the body can create choline in small amounts, it cannot make enough to maintain health. Choline must be consumed in the diet.
Choline is a component of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is involved in sleep, muscle movement, pain regulation, learning, and memory formation.
Most of the body's choline is found in phospholipids, which are fat molecules. The most common of these is phosphatidylcholine, better known as lecithin.
Choline's functions include:
- Helping to maintain the structure of the cell membrane
- Aiding in the transmission of nerve impulses
- Playing a role in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine (elevated levels of homocysteine have been associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease)
- Helping to transport fat and cholesterol out of the liver
|0-6 months||125 mg (18 mg/kg)||125 mg (18 mg/kg)|
|7-12 months||150 mg||150 mg|
|1-3 years||200 mg||200 mg|
|4-8 years||250 mg||250 mg|
|9-13 years||375 mg||375 mg|
|14-18 years||400 mg||550 mg|
|19 and older||425 mg||550 mg|
|Pregnant, all ages||450 mg||n/a|
|Lactating, all ages||550 mg||n/a|
Although the body can make choline, it cannot make enough to maintain proper health and functioning. Therefore it is possible for your choline levels to become too low if your diet does not contain enough. Because choline is essential for the transport of fat from the liver, deficiency symptoms include:
- Fatty accumulation in the liver, called "fatty" liver
- Liver damage
The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for choline from dietary sources and supplements combined is 3.5 grams per day. Symptoms of choline toxicity include:
- Fishy body odor
- Increased salivation
- Increased sweating
- Hypotensive effect (lowering blood pressure)
Major Food Sources
Very little information is available on the choline content of foods; approximate values are given in the following table.
|Beef liver, cooked||3 ounces||453|
|Beef, cooked||3 ounces||59|
|Cauliflower, cooked||1 cup||55|
|Peanut butter||2 tablespoons||26|
|Potato, baked||1 medium||18|
|Grape juice||8 ounces||13|
|Milk, whole||8 ounces||10|
|Whole wheat bread||1 slice||4|
Source: The Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center
Populations at Risk for Choline Deficiency
The following populations may be at risk for a choline deficiency and may benefit from a supplement:
- Strict vegetarians—a choline deficiency may result if you do not eat animal products, including milk or eggs
- Endurance athletes—studies have shown that some choline may be lost during intense training
- People who consume excessive amounts of alcohol—many alcoholics tend to have diets that are lacking in several essential nutrients, including choline
Choline and Alzheimer's Disease
Because choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important in learning and memory, it has been studied for a possible role in Alzheimer's disease. Studies have been conducted, but a systematic review of published clinical trials found no benefit of supplementation with lecithin in the treatment of patients with dementia.
Tips for Increasing Your Choline Intake
To help increase your intake of choline:
- At breakfast, spread a little peanut butter on your bagel or toast in place of butter or cream cheese.
- Hard boil an egg and grate it onto a salad at lunchtime.
- For dinner, drink a glass of milk instead of soda.
- Try sprinkling granular lecithin on top of your cereal, oatmeal, salad, or stir-fry. Just a few teaspoons is all you need.
- If you are taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement, make sure that it contains choline or lecithin.
American Dietetic Association
Dietitians of Canada
"Choline." Complementary Therapies. March 2002.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Folate, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B12, Panthothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences USA. Washington DC: National Academy Press; 1998.
"Lecithin for dementia and cognitive impairment." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2000.
The Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Information Center. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/. Accessed July 24, 2008.
US Food and Drug Administration. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/. Accessed July 24, 2008.
Zeisel SH. Choline: Needed for Normal Development of Memory. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2000; 19 (5suppl): 528S-531S.
Last reviewed July 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg MS, RD, LDN
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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