Choline is not a vitamin or a mineral, but it is an essential nutrient. Although the body can create choline in small amounts, it cannot make enough to maintain health. Choline must be consumed in the diet.
Choline is a component of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is involved in sleep, muscle movement, pain regulation, learning, and memory formation.
Most of the body's choline is found in phospholipids, which are fat molecules. The most common of these is phosphatidylcholine, better known as lecithin.
Choline's functions include:
Helping to maintain the structure of the cell membrane
Aiding in the transmission of nerve impulses
Playing a role in the conversion of
to methionine (elevated levels of homocysteine have been associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease)
Helping to transport fat and cholesterol out of the liver
19 and older
Pregnant, all ages
Lactating, all ages
Although the body can make choline, it cannot make enough to maintain proper health and functioning. Therefore, it is possible for your choline levels to become too low if your diet does not contain enough. Because choline is essential for the transport of fat from the liver, deficiency symptoms include:
Fatty accumulation in the liver, called "fatty" liver
The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for choline from dietary sources and supplements combined is:
19 and older
Pregnant, 18 years and younger
Pregnant, 19 years and older
Lactating, 18 years and younger
Lactating, 19 years and older
Symptoms of choline toxicity include:
Fishy body odor
Hypotensive effect (lowering blood pressure)
Major Food Sources
Very little information is available on the choline content of foods; approximate values are given in the following table.
Beef liver, pan fried
Wheat germ, toasted
Atlantic cod, cooked
Brussel sprouts, cooked
1 cup, chopped
Peanut butter, smooth
Source: The Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center
Populations at Risk for Choline Deficiency
The following populations may be at risk for a choline deficiency and may benefit from a supplement:
Strict vegetarians—A choline deficiency may result if you do not eat animal products, including milk or eggs.
Endurance athletes—Studies have shown that some choline may be lost during intense training.
People who consume excessive amounts of alcohol—People who abuse alcohol tend to have diets that are lacking in several essential nutrients, including choline.
Because choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important in learning and memory, it has been studied for a possible role in Alzheimer's disease. Studies have been conducted, but a review of clinical trials found no benefit of supplementation with lecithin in the treatment of people with dementia.
Tips for Increasing Your Choline Intake
To help increase your intake of choline:
At breakfast, spread a little peanut butter on your bagel or toast in place of butter or cream cheese.
Hard boil an egg and grate it onto a salad at lunchtime.
For dinner, drink a glass of milk instead of soda.
Try sprinkling granular lecithin on top of your cereal, oatmeal, salad, or stir-fry. Just a few teaspoons is all you need.
If you are taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement, make sure that it contains choline or lecithin.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Folate, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B12, Panthothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences USA. Washington DC: National Academy Press; 1998.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a