Table of Contents
What is Choline?
So what is choline? Choline is a water soluble micronutrient found in every cell of our body. Choline is produced in minute amounts in the liver, but we require dietary supplementation of choline in order to survive. Choline is needed by the body for the role of sending signals from one cell membrane to another, for neurotransmission, for the synthesis of acetylcholine, the transportation of lipids, and choline provides methyl groups plays a role in the S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) synthesis pathway.
Additionally, Choline is needed for liver function, brain development, nerve function, muscle movement and a healthy metabolism. Choline is also needed in the process of methylation; where Methylation is used in the construction of DNA and neurotransmission.
Choline is a precursor of acetylcholine, meaning that acetylcholine is made from choline. Why does this matter? Well, we need acetylcholine for the smooth communication between nerves and the proper functioning or contraction of muscles.
Another useful function of Choline is that it is an estrogen methylator. That means choline donates a methyl group or molecule to an estrogen molecule, rendering estrogen inert and allowing the body to eliminate estrogen through our excrement.
Finally, I would like to add that Choline is super important for mothers during pregnancy. Let me explain.
Why is Choline Important for Pregnant Mothers?
Choline was first discovered in egg yolk by the chemist Adolph Strecker. And it doesn’t surprise me that he first found it in eggs. An egg’s yolk is saturated with choline because it is extremely important for the proper development of the baby chicken, and so you’ll find a parallel in nature that choline is also sequestered in the wombs of other creatures including humans, during pregnancy. Choline is so important that the mother’s body actually pulls choline from all parts of the body to concentrate it in the womb, such that the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus is 10 times higher in choline concentration, than in the mother’s blood.
If the mother is deficient while pregnant or lactating, greater risks for neural tube defects and cleft lip and palate as well as memory and other cognitive impairments in the child later in life
So how does choline affect the development of the fetus exactly? Well one example is that the choline available during (late) pregnancy in rodents was observed to relate to the irreversible changes in hippocampal function in adult rodents, like changes in long-term memory capacity.
Increased consumption of choline in rodent dams by about four times dietary recommendations during days 11–17 of pregnancy increased hippocampal cell proliferation and decreased apoptosis (programmed cell death) of these cells in their fetuses. This may occur because, in choline-deficient cells in culture, and in fetal rodent brains from choline deficient dams, the promoter of CDKN3, a gene which inhibits cell proliferation in the brain, is not properly methylated. This leaves CDKN3 active, decreasing cell proliferation in the brain. Increased choline consumption by rodent dams has shown improved auditory and visuaspatial memory in offspring, as well as preventing age-related memory decline as their offspring grew old.
But there is an important distinction between baby rodents and baby humans. The rodents brain have a very fast brain maturation, and thus a more mature brain at birth compared to humans at birth. Whereas human babies continue to have their brain develop after birth, and doesn’t become similar to an adult human brain’s structure until around 4 years of age.
So perhaps what the baby is fed for the first 4 years of his/her life can have a significant affect on his/her cognitive function. So factors like whether the baby consumes formula or the mother’s milk may affect brain development, depending on the amount and absorption of choline.
For example, maybe the mother’s milk would help the baby’s digestive system develop better than formula. Specifically the mother’s milk has special sugars, called oligosaccharides, that act as prebiotics or food that feed & help grow healthy colonies of probiotic bacteria. But baby formula has none of that. And so a baby with a better developed digestive system is much more able to assimilate nutrients from their food, and I’d imagine that includes choline.
How do We Get Choline? Where do we get Choline from?
The human body can produce choline by methylation of phosphatidylethanolamine by N-methyltranferase (PEMT) to form phosphatidylcholine in the liver, or it may be consumed from the diet. In other words, we produce a little from our liver, but get the majority of choline from our diet. Note that a significant number of people cannot absorb choline as well as other people, so it is imperative to check whether your body is getting enough choline or not.
To continue, a slight deficiency in choline basically means that we don’t function optimally. That’s why quite a few people who supplement choline have reported significant cognitive benefits in /r/nootropics. Specifically, they have observed a lift in brain fog and/or improvement in memory while taking Choline as a nootropic supplement. Note that brain fog doesn’t only manifest because of a deficiency of choline; for example, inflammation is also responsible in brain fog that many people experience. I personally find that drinking an anti-inflammatory tea (ginger/turmeric combo) significantly makes my ability to think much more coherent and sharper.
So now you might want to know, “What types of food can I eat to make sure I have enough choline in my diet?”. Well, a few food rich in choline include, but are not limited to:
- Liver & other organs
- Eggs, specifically the yolk, is very high in choline.
- Wild caught fish
- Shiitake Mushrooms
- Cauliflower & other cruciferous vegetables.
Signs of Choline Deficiency
Note that these symptoms can be caused by other factors, but if a person has any of these symptoms, that warrants an investigation. So signs of Choline deficiency include:
- headaches & migraines
- low energy levels & fatigue
- memory loss
- cognitive decline
- learning disabilities
- muscle aches
- nerve damage
- mood changes or disorders
People with liver dysfunction are more likely to have a choline deficiency, since the body uses the liver to produce choline.
Furthermore, physical changes that occur in the body from (assumingly prolonged) deficiency of choline include the development of fatty liver, liver damage, and muscle damage.
Signs of Choline Toxicity
Alternatively, an overabundance of choline intake (≥7,500 mg) causes symptoms of hypotension (low blood pressure), sweating, diarrhea, and a fishy body odor.But that amount is hard to get by diet alone. Consider that it is considered by NIH that the adequate intake of choline is 550 mg per day for men, and 425mg per day of choline for women. The upper tolerable limit for choline intake is marked at 3.5g/day for adults.
- Alpha GPC Choline (nootropic)
- Bulksupplements Pure Choline DL-Bitartrate Powder (500 grams)
- Jarrow Formulas CDP Choline, a.k.a. Citicoline
- Solgar’s Phosphatidyl Choline