Despite choline’s important metabolic role in the body, research shows that only 1 in every 10 Americans are meeting Adequate Intake (AI) guidelines for choline.
Chemical Structure of Choline
What is choline?
Choline was discovered in 1862, but it was not until 1998 that the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recognized choline as an essential nutrient and Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) were established.
Choline is an organic compound, classified as a water-soluble essential nutrient and usually grouped within the vitamin B complex. It is a natural amine that is found in the lipids that make up cell membranes and in the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Choline is needed for many of life’s most basic functions including normal functioning of all cells, liver metabolism and the transportation of nutrients throughout the body.
Although choline is produced within the body, in vivo production is not adequate to meet needs so choline must be consumed in the diet.
Choline is found in foods such as beef liver, chicken liver, eggs, beef steak, cod, broccoli, peanut butter and milk. To learn more about food sources of choline click here.
Functions & Benefits of choline: A Snapshot
Choline deficiency in pregnant women can result in elevated levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can be toxic to fetuses when maternal levels are too high, potentially resulting in birth defects.
Choline works with folate to help promote brain and memory development in growing fetuses and newborn infants.
Research shows that women who consume higher amounts of dietary choline have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
Higher intakes of dietary choline have been shown to be related to lower plasma homocysteine levels. This is beneficial because elevated plasma homocysteine is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important for both learning and memory and has been studied for a possible role in Alzheimer's disease. Numerous animal studies have shown enhanced brain function when rats and mice were given supplemental choline.
For more information on the functions and benefits of choline, visit the Research Library.
By the numbers: A choline call-to-action
Consumer research has shown that almost three out of every four moms (74 percent) are not at all familiar with the benefits of choline.
Consumer research also shows that 78 percent of moms do not know food sources of choline.
Knowledge and awareness about choline among health professionals is low. A survey of dietitians and doctors found that familiarity with choline was ranked below that of many other vitamins and minerals. When ranking how familiar they were with choline, only 10 percent of the practitioners surveyed indicated they were moderately familiar with choline.*
The survey also found that the likelihood of health professionals to recommend choline to patients was low. Only 6 percent of OB/GYNs were very-likely to recommend choline to pregnant women.*
*StrategyOne Health Professionals Survey, March, 2007. Online study among 252 healthcare professionals from Harris Interactive's Physicians and Specialty Health Professionals Panels. Sponsored by American Egg Board/Egg Nutrition Center.