Choline is an essential nutrient required for a great many bodily functions. It is required for numerous nervous system functions, liver and gallbladder functions, cell structure, and metabolism. It even helps to stave off disease. Thankfully, this vitally essential nutrient is found in a wide variety of foods.
What is the Role of Choline in the Body?
Choline is crucial for the proper transmission signals along the nervous system from the brain throughout the entire body (also known as neurotransmitter synthesis). It also is extremely necessary for liver function, gallbladder regulation, and lecithin formation. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2782876/)
This nutrient is used by the body in hormone production and it aids in fat and cholesterol metabolism. It is even required for DNA synthesis and cell structure. Choline is also required for the synthesis of many B Vitamins, especially Folate and B12 (more on this in a moment).
Choline is one of the main components of Lecithin. Lecithin is rich in phosphatidylcholine, which is a form of choline. Lecithin is similar to a healthy fat and it is found in our cells. Lecithin is an emulsifier – which means it helps to disperse fat particles in water, but it keeps them from totally separating. This helps to maintain cell membranes!
All cells in both animals and plants require choline in order to maintain their structural integrity. It is vital for modulating gene expression, cell membrane signaling, liquid transport, and even the neurotransmitters that are responsible for muscle control, memory and mood. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201701/the-case-choline)
Pregnant & Nursing Mothers
Pregnant Mothers and Nursing Mothers have a critical need for choline. 550 milligrams is the recommended dosing, while only 425 is required for women who are not pregnant or nursing.
There is 10 times greater amount of choline in amniotic fluid than is present in the mother’s blood. Choline is delivered to the developing baby at tremendously concentrated levels through the placenta. Not only is this essential nutrient vital for the developing baby’s brain, but it also will help to prevent neural tube defects due to the way choline helps the body to process folate.
When pregnant women have high homocysteine levels they have a higher risk of preeclampsia, low birth weight, and premature birth. Choline helps to reduce the homocysteine levels in our body since it is so vital for the process of breaking down homocysteine in the body.
Human milk has very high amounts of choline – so nursing mothers still need to make sure they are getting adequate amounts. Without taking extra, the mother’s natural store of choline will become depleted and she can quickly develop choline deficiency symptoms.
Premenopausal women tend to need slightly less, because estrogen induces the gene that starts the biosynthesis process.
Young children whose brains are growing and developing at such a rapid rate need 250 milligrams of choline a day.
Some studies show that choline plays such a vital role in memory that students who had a choline-rich diet performed better on memory tests. This is because choline is essential for the creation of acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that tells our heart to beat, our muscles to twitch and even tells our hippocampus to store a memory. It is a vital neurotransmitter for our attention span, alertness, and learning abilities. Choline plays a critical role in language development. This makes choline crucial for helping to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with autism.
Many children with autism get stuck at the labeling phase of language, which is a part of the “demand” phase and struggle to move on to the “complex” phase. The “complex” phase is where the Who, What, Why, and Where questions are asked. The “complex” language is processed at an entirely different section in the brain, a part that uses more specific motor planning and word sequencing. While no one yet fully understands how choline affects the transition from “demand” to “complex” language, many scholars are sure it has to do with the way our brain processes acetylcholine. (http://devdelay.org/newsletter/articles/html/332-choline-and-complex-language.html)
Brain Inflammation & Mental Health Disorders
People with Parkinson’s disease, Tardive dyskinesia, and other nervous system disorders would greatly benefit from taking extra choline. It also can be beneficial for the prevention and improvement of Arteriosclerosis.
Choline is required for DNA synthesis and this is crucial for not only brain development but also for brain function. It can prevent cognitive decline – including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. This is because Acetylcholine deficiency is highly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
We have to regrow brain cells as we age, in a process called Neurogenesis, and choline helps us do just that. Acetylcholine is also called the anti-aging neurotransmitter. A choline-rich diet can completely change the way that our brain ages.
People who have high levels of choline in their diets tend to have lower inflammatory markers, including C-reactive protein, homocysteine, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor. It is these inflammatory markers that can contribute to cancer, heart disease, and auto-immune disorders. It also helps to protect the wall of the large intestine with people who have ulcerative colitis.
Choline is also crucial for combating many mental health disorders including depression and anxiety. Some studies show that if choline is deficient during in-utero development and in early childhood, that individuals have a much higher chance of having depression.
For years, low serotonin levels was thought to be the primary cause of depression and anxiety, but scientists are not understanding more about the function of Acetylcholine in the brain. There currently are not any lab tests that a patient can get to test the serotonin levels – that was just the best theoretical hypothesis. Yale is currently researching the role of acetylcholine and depression (https://www.bbrfoundation.org/content/potential-root-cause-depression-discovered-narsad-grantee.)
So far, Yale has discovered that acetylcholine directly affects the nerve impulse signaling in the hippocampus, which is the area responsible for memory and mood. And low acetylcholine has shown to cause significantly higher rates of depression. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/charting-the-depths/201007/the-serotonin-theory-depression-is-collapsing)
MTHFR Gene Mutation
MTHFR gene mutation causes a wide variety of symptoms and increases the chances of neural tube defects. This is due to the way folate is processed. Choline is exceptionally important for people who have this gene mutation. People with MTHFR gene mutation are often choline deficient.
Choline and Folate are both methyl donors in the process of remethylation of homocysteine. This process turns homocysteine into methionine, which is an essential L-amino acid required for tissue growth and tissue repair. This primarily occurs in the liver.
What Causes Choline Deficiency?
The most common cause of choline deficiency is an improper or unvaried diet. Vegetarians are also at high risk for choline deficiency.
When a person has a choline deficiency, they may experience a fatty buildup in the liver, gastric ulcers, high blood pressure, the inability to digest fats, kidney impairment, or cardiac symptoms. Choline deficiency can a lot of fatigue or low energy levels. It can also cause memory loss, cognitive decline, muscle aches, nerve damage, depression, anxiety, mood changes, etc.
Some people may have a genetic factor that prevents proper choline absorption in food. Some genes require an increase of dietary methyl requirements, and since choline is a major part of the methyl process, these genes will result in a choline deficiency.
Be sure to not take extremely high doses as having too much can cause low blood pressure, a fishy body odor, and gastrointestinal disruption.
Which Foods are High in Choline?
- egg yolks are the most concentrated source of choline.
- beef – especially beef liver
- Brussel’s sprouts
- legumes such as navy beans, baked beans, & peanuts
- wheat germ
What is the Best Form of Choline?
Phosphatidylcholine is the easiest form of choline for your body to process and it is found primarily in eggs. Phosphatidylcholine is term that is used interchangeably with Lecithin, though they are not technically the same thing. It can also be found in sunflower and mustard.
There are a number of supplements available to help counteract choline deficiency. Please read the labels to make sure that it is sunflower based and not soy based. Soy has a large number of negative health effects including increased estrogen which can lead to breast cancer.
For children who cannot swallow pills, Liquid PC from The Village Green, is a good option. It contains Xymogen Phosphaline, a form of choline. Nature’s Sunshine also has a great Lecithin capsule. Krill Oil is another great option.