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Vitamin :: Choline


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Other Terms:

Lipotropic Factor


Water soluble.  Any excess is excreted in urine.  For most people it needs to be taken into the body regularly.

On this Page: What is Choline · Benefits · Deficiency Signs · Foods · Supplements · RDA · Toxicity | Overdose

What is Choline ?
Choline is one of the B-complex vitamins.  It was only relatively recently that choline was officially classified as a vitamin and an essential nutrient. Its RDA was established for the first time in 1998.

However, its key benefits have been known since the 1930s, when it was found to prevent fatty build up in the liver.

How Choline Benefits Health
Choline plays a major role in transport of fats and fat metabolism. Because of this, choline is important in any health concerns involving the liver, such as cirrhosis or alcoholism.

Choline is also good for the brain.  It has been established that choline is necessary for optimal cognitive function.  It is a basic nutrient needed for the production of acetylcholine, the signaling molecule or neurotransmitter that is essential for many brain and nerve functions.

The body also needs choline to manufacture phosphatidylcholine, a key component of the fatty membrane of human cells including brain cells, that determines their ability to allow nutrients and waste products to pass in and out of cells.

Choline has been shown to reduce chronic inflammation and homocysteine levels in the blood, both of which are linked to a number of disorders such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and diseases related to cognitive decline such as Alzheimer's.

The main ways that choline benefits the body are summarized here.

:: Choline Benefits & Functions
1. constituent of lecithin (phosphatidylcholine), a key building block of cell membranes, important for cell formation and tissue growth and repair
2. needed for proper functioning of cell membranes, to allow passage of nutrients and waste products in and out of cells
3. needed for production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a chemical that is vital for many brain and nerve functions; is being experimented with for improving neuromuscular function in Alzheimer's disease
4. essential for optimal brain functioning, learning and memory
5. needed for nerves to interact with muscles
6. may help nervous system disorders like epilepsy or Parkinson's disease
7. regulates the gallbladder and helps prevent gallstones
8. regulates liver function, helps eliminate toxins, and is beneficial for liver damage related to hepatitis and cirrhosis
9. for fat and cholesterol transport and metabolism as an energy source
10. natural lipotropic agent that minimizes excess fat in the liver
11. converts homocysteine in the blood to other substances, which lowers its level and helps prevent cardiovascular problems
12. preliminary research shows that, in combination with betaine, may help reduce chronic inflammation linked to disorders such as osteoporosis, heart disease, brain decline, Alzheimer's disease, and type II diabetes


Choline Deficiency Symptoms and Causes
Choline deficiency can be due to poor dietary intake, either because of a deficient diet, or the body being unable to absorb the nutrient from food.

Or it could be due to insufficient intake of nutrients such as vitamin B12, folic acid and the amino acid methionine, which are needed for choline to play its role in an important biochemical process called methylation.

Some health conditions can contribute to choline deficiency. These include by-pass surgery, kidney transplant, liver problems like liver cirrhosis, long term use of anti-convulsant drugs, and over-consumption of refined sugar, alcohol, or nicotinic acid.

One result of choline deficiency is that the liver is unable to package and transport fats properly.  Characteristic symptoms are increased levels of certain fats, called triglycerides, and decreased levels of VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein) used by the liver to transport fat in the blood.

With age, the brain is less able to take in choline.  As choline is critical for nerve and brain function, this contributes to the risk of senile dementia.

Choline deficiency symptoms may possibly be prevented or minimized by taking more choline in food or supplements.

:: Choline Deficiency Symptoms
1. impaired fat metabolism and transport, which hinders fat from being an energy source, and is symptomized by decrease in blood levels of VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein) which the liver uses to transport fats
2. fatty build-up in the liver, which may lead to fatty degeneration of the liver, cirrhosis, and liver damage
3. raised levels of cholesterol or triglyceride (a type of fats)
4. high blood pressure (hypertension)
5. high levels of homocysteine in blood, leading to risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular and circulatory problems
6. respiratory distress in newborns or nerve degeneration or nerve-muscle imbalances due to insufficient acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that cannot be made without choline
7. anemia arising from lack of red blood cell formation, as a cell membrane component, phosphatidylcholine, needs choline for its production
8. kidney hemorrhage or kidneys unable to concentrate urine, due to insufficient phosphatidylcholine
9. abnormal bone formation
10. impaired growth in newborns
11. fatigue
12. insomnia
13. infertility
14. as choline is critical for brain function and intake decreases with age, deficiency might lead to impaired memory or brain function or senile dementia (shortage of acetylcholine in the brain has been associated with Alzheimer's disease)


Choline Foods
Rich choline sources · egg yolk · lecithin (usually derived from soybeans) · soybeans and soybean products.

Where else to find choline in food · banana · butter · organ meats like calf liver and heart · cauliflower · flax seed · legumes · milk · oranges · peanuts and peanut butter · potatoes · sesame seeds · tomatoes · whole grain cereals such as barley, corn, oats, whole wheat.


Choline Supplements
Taking vitamins and minerals in their correct balance is vital to the proper functioning of all vitamins.  They work synergistically, which means that the effectiveness of any one nutrient requires or is enhanced, sometimes dramatically, by the presence of certain other nutrients.

For this reason, if you are looking to take supplements for maintenance of optimal health, the recommended approach is to take a multi-vitamin that has the proper balance of all the necessary nutrients your body needs.

For a list of reputable top ranked vitamin and mineral supplements chosen in an independent supplement review, see Best Multivitamin Supplements. Many of these are manufactured to pharmaceutical or nutraceutical GMP compliance, which is the highest multivitamin standard possible.

Keep in mind, however, that while vitamin supplements are useful to plug nutritional gaps that are almost inevitable in modern diets, and to ensure we get optimal doses of nutrients, they are no substitute for a good diet. Instead, use them to complement a healthy diet and lifestyle.


Choline RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance)
The Food & Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, in their 1997-2001 collaboration between the US and Canada, set the daily Adequate Intake (AI) of Choline as follows.

Life Stage | Gender Choline Dosage | Day
Infants 0-6 mths 125* mg
Infants 7-12 mths 150* mg
Children 1-3 yrs 200* mg
Children 4-8 yrs 250* mg
Girls 9-13 Yrs 375* mg
Boys 9-13 Yrs 375* mg
Females 14-18 Yrs 400* mg
Males 14-18 Yrs 550* mg
Females 19-50 Yrs 425* mg
Males 19-50 Yrs 550* mg
Females older than 50 Yrs 425* mg
Males older than 50 Yrs 550* mg
Pregnant Women 14-18 Yrs 450* mg
Pregnant Women 19-50 Yrs 450* mg
Lactating Mothers 14-18 Yrs 550* mg
Lactating Mothers 19-50 Yrs 550* mg

These dosages are the minimum required per day to ward off deficiency. In therapeutic use of this nutrient, dosage is increased as necessary for the ailment, keeping in mind Choline toxicity levels.


1 µg = 1 mcg = 1 microgram = 1/1,000,000 of a gram
1 mg = 1 milligram = 1/1,000 of a gram

* Indicates AI figures based on Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) figures


Choline Overdose Symptoms, Toxicity Level & Side Effects
Possible choline side effects from overdosing include abdominal discomfort, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, feeling of faintness or dizziness, low blood pressure, increased salivation, depression, sweating, and unusual body odour.

In its 1998 recommendations the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine set Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs) for choline. These are highest average daily intake levels above which there is a risk of choline side effects.

Life Stage Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL) per Day
0 to 12 months *ND
1 to 8 years 1.0 g
9 to 13 years 2.0 g
14 to 18 years** 3.0 g
19 years & above** 3.5 g
*ND : Not determinable.  Intake should be from food/milk only.
**Includes pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The ULs do not apply to therapeutic use of choline for treatment, which should be under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

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1. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary reference intakes for thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, and choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1998.

2. The George Mateljan Foundation: The world's healthiest foods [WHFoods]. WHFoods home page. <http://www.whfoods.com>. Accessed 2009 March – June.

3. Balch JF, Balch PA. Prescription for nutritional healing: A practical A-Z reference to drug-free remedies using vitamins, minerals, herbs & food supplements. Garden City Park, New York: Avery Publishing; 1990.

4. Sharon M. Nutrients A-Z: A user's guide to foods, herbs, vitamins, minerals & supplements. 3rd ed. London, UK: Carlton Books; 2005.

5. Detopoulou P, Panagiotakos DB, Antonopoulou S, Pitsavos C, Stefanadis C. Dietary choline and betaine intakes in relation to concentrations of inflammatory markers in healthy adults: the ATTICA study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008 Feb;87(2):424-30.

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