You may have heard about choline before, but for some of you, this could be the first time you’re reading about it. So, what exactly is it and why should we talk about it?
Choline is an essential nutrient that we must get from dietary sources. It has multiple, diverse functions within the body, which include cell membrane signaling, neurotransmitter synthesis, gene expression, and lipid (fat) transport. It helps to protect against conditions like nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and may even help slow the progression of dementia.
The main reason why choline has become of interest within the world of nutrition is that recent research has shown that most Americans do not get the recommended daily amount of choline in their diets. In fact, recent data from the National Health and
Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that only 8% of adults meet the recommendation, which the Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggests as 550 mg/day for men and 425 mg/day for women. This is important because we know that if we do not get enough of a nutrient, our health can be negatively affected.
Choline is very important during different stages of life, particularly during pregnancy and lactation. The IOM recently found that only 10% of U.S. pregnant and lactating women meet the Adequate Intake levels of 450 mg/day (pregnancy) and 550 mg/day (lactation). This is a concern because choline is essential for both fetal and maternal health during and after pregnancy. It is crucial for fetal growth and development of the central nervous system, helps to ease baby’s level of stress, improves infant cognitive function, and it also helps to lower maternal risk for preeclampsia.
When there is not enough choline in the body, a problem that is likely to result is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can be a negative consequence from a choline deficiency because choline helps to synthesize lipoproteins within the liver, which are responsible for transporting fat away from the liver to the rest of the body. But when these lipoproteins aren’t made, the fat molecules in the liver stay around and cause a buildup of fat, which evidently damages the liver.
The good news is that most healthy, nonpregnant, individuals are not at a high risk for developing a choline deficiency, but as research shows, most of the nation’s population is insufficient, which can lead to health problems over time, as mentioned earlier.
What steps can you take to ensure you are consuming an adequate amount of choline? Choose choline-rich foods daily, which include beef liver, eggs, milk, codfish, kidney beans, shiitake mushrooms, quinoa, soybeans, broccoli, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and potatoes.
Remember, if your diet is comprised of balance, moderation, variety, and adequacy, you are not likely to be at a significant risk for choline deficiency. However, more does not necessarily mean better, especially when taking a nutrient in its supplement form. There is an Upper Tolerable limit of 3,500 mg/day of choline for adults, but this is highly unlikely to be reached through dietary sources alone.
Nathker, Elana, et al. “What's New on the Label: Choline, The Forgotten Nutrient.” Public Health
and Wellness. Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, 22 Oct. 2017, Chicago, McCormick Place .
“Office of Dietary Supplements - Choline.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Choline-HealthProfessional/.
Weisenberger, Jill. “Choline under the Microscope.” Today's Dietitian, Nov. 2017, pp. 36–40.