Choline is an essential nutrient, a member of the B-vitamin family. It can be manufactured in the body (from the amino acid methionine), although some researchers feel that it is not made in sufficient amounts for optimal health. Folic acid and vitamin B12 are also needed to process choline properly. Choline plays a role in brain development (as an amine precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine), liver function, and cardiovascular health. It is also used to enhance mental performance, memory and reaction time; for cancer prevention; to promote energy; and to delay fatigue. Choline is an important component of lipid transport and is a constituent of cell membranes. Therefore, it has functions in virtually every bodily system. It may reduce accumulation of fat in the liver.
Research shows that during pregnancy, choline intake of the mother may influence memory and brain development in the growing infant. Studies on choline and lecithin supplementation clearly show an increase in blood choline levels following supplementation with 1 – 5 grams of choline (or 5-15 grams of lecithin). Supplements have also been shown to improve marathon performance and endurance cycling ability (time to exhaustion), but may not be beneficial effect on shorter duration high-intensity exercise such as sprinting.
Dietary Sources: Food sources of choline include egg yolks (the major dietary source), organ meats and legumes. Choline is available in supplemental form as lecithin (or phosphatidylcholine) as well as purified choline capsules and as an ingredient in sports bars and drinks.
Dosage: The recommended amount of choline is 425mg/day for women and 550mg/day for men. The "average" diet supplies about 400 – 900mg of choline daily, which is presumed to be adequate. Choline was only designated as an essential nutrient by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences in April of 1998.
Side Effects: No adverse effects of choline supplements are noted at levels of 1-2 grams. Doses closer to 5 grams may be associated with side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal discomfort. There have also been anecdotal reports of "fishy body odor" in people consuming high daily doses of choline or lecithin.
The following studies are a brief review of the effects of choline.
1. Lecithin or choline administration can diminish the frequency of abnormal movements in patients with tardive dyskinesia
2. Both verbal and visual memory may be impaired in patients on long-term total parenteral nutrition and both may be improved with choline supplementation
3. Choline acts by increasing acetylcholine synthesis
4. Uptake of circulating choline into the brain decreases with age
5. Deprivation of choline during early development leads to compromised cognitive function and increased decline with age
6. Beneficial in endurance exercise
7. Low choline is associated with abnormal liver enzymes
Choline Abstracts (17)