Functions Of Choline In The Body, Its Health Benefits and Who is at Risk For Choline Deficiency

What is Choline?

Choline is an essential nutrient that plays the role of transferring signals between the nerve cells that are important for brain development, cell structure, liver function, muscle movement, metabolism, and nervous system.

Choline is an essential nutrient and its intake should be encouraged.(1)

The Liver produces choline but not enough and therefore, it has to be obtained from the diet and the supplements.

With the ‘going vegan’ trending, most of the people have left meat and dairy products and are dependant just on the plant-based diet. Most of the essential nutrients that lag in a plant-based diet are supplemented to meet the recommended intake, the lesser-known nutrient choline is overlooked.

Choline deficiency can have an impact on liver diseases, atherosclerosis, and neurological disorders.

What Are the Daily Choline Requirements?

The daily intake requirement is difficult as its presence in various foods is unknown. The values of choline recommended for different age group are as follows:

  • 0-6 months: 125 mg/day
  • 7-12 months: 150 mg/day
  • 1-3 years: 200mg/day
  • 4-8 years: 250 mg/day
  • 9-13 years: 375 mg/day
  • 14-19 years: 400 mg/day in case of women and 550 mg/day in case of men
  • Adult women: 425 mg/day
  • Adult men: 550 mg/day
  • Breastfeeding women: 550 mg/day
  • Pregnant women: 450 mg/day

The daily intake of choline depends on the individual. Some are able to carry out even with less choline while others need more of it. A study done on 26 men found that 6 amongst them developed the symptoms of choline deficiency even with an adequate intake.(4)

Functions Of Choline In The Body

Choline plays a major role in carrying out various processes in the body which include:

  1. Maintaining the structural integrity of cell membranes.(2)
  2. Choline helps in production of compounds that act as cell messengers
  3. Choline is also responsible for making a substance that is required in the body for removing cholesterol from the liver. If inadequate level is present in the body it can lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the liver.(3)
  4. Choline along with vitamin B12 and folate help in the processes which carry out DNA synthesis.

It is required in the body to make acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter that is involved with memory, muscle movement, heartbeat regulation, and other basic functions.

Who Are At Risk Of Choline Deficiency?

Although it is a rare deficiency there are certain people who are at risk of choline deficiency:

  • Athletes: The level of choline falls during long endurance exercise such as marathons.(5)
  • Alcoholics: High alcohol intake increases the risk of choline deficiency.(6,7)
  • Postmenopausal women: Estrogen helps maintain the choline production. In menopausal women the level tends to drop, bringing down the choline level.(8)
  • Pregnant women: The unborn baby needs choline for growth and development, which raises the choline requirement during pregnancy.(9)

Choline deficiency is rare but causes harm especially to the liver.

A study done on 57 adults found that 77% of men, 80% of postmenopausal women and 44% of premenopausal women experienced liver or muscle damage when asked to be on a diet lacking choline in it.(10)

The symptoms of deficiency disappear once choline is supplemented.

During pregnancy choline is important as its deficiency can lead to neural tube defects in the unborn babies. Take sufficient or higher dietary intake of choline lowers the risk of neural tube defects.(11)

Health Benefits Of Choline

This important nutrient serves the body with various health benefits few of which are listed below.

Reduces The Risk Of Heart Disease

Choline intake impacts heart health. Choline along with folate, helps convert amino acid homocysteine to methionine.

Deficiency of either folate or choline leads to the accumulation of homocysteine in the blood, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.(12)

Improves Memory And Brain Function

Choline is important for the production of acetylcholine which plays a role in regulating memory, mood, and intelligence.(13)

It also synthesizes DNA which is important for brain development.

There is also evidence of choline’s role in the treatment of certain mental health disorders such as anxiety.(14)

Other Health Benefits of Choline

Choline is also found effective in lowering the chances of liver disease, cancer, and neural tube defects.

The evidence is limited and more research is required for the same.

How Much Choline Is Too Much?

The daily upper limit for an adult is 3500 mg per day, which is the highest level unlikely to cause harm.

Consuming excess of choline is associated with harmful side effects which include a drop in blood pressure, sweating, fishy body odor, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

Choline is an essential nutrient that plays a role in healthy brain function, heart health, liver function, and pregnancy. Do not forget counting this nutrient in the daily diet. Eat more choline-rich foods and stay healthy.

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