Nutrition

What Is Choline, and Can It Benefit Cognition?

Choline is a nutrient that's used by the brain and the liver. Available via dietary sources or supplementation, choline benefits your health by supporting brain function.

SUMMARY

What is choline all about, and how can it support your health? Choline benefits wellness, and you can up your intake by supplementing with CDC choline or choline bitartrate. Studies show that adding a choline supplement to your regimen supports brain health and may help protect against heart disease.  

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We are constantly expanding our knowledge regarding nutrition, and every year, we make new discoveries regarding nutrients and the role they play in our health. 

Choline is a prime example of a nutrient that’s been heavily researched and studied in recent years. This research has caused us to arrive at new insights regarding the ways in which choline benefits health. 

So, what is choline good for when it comes to health and wellness? The data shows that choline intake impacts memory and brain function. And choline supplementation may play a role in reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. 

Let’s investigate the ways in which choline benefits health. 

In this article, we will:

  • Share some basic facts regarding choline
  • Discuss the role choline plays in your overall health
  • Explain the difference between CDP choline and choline bitartrate
  • List some choline-rich foods
  • Discuss key choline benefits
  • Offer guidance regarding choline dosage 

What is choline?

Choline is a nutrient that was first discovered in the 1800s, but its true importance wasn’t revealed until the 1990s. During that decade, feeding studies were conducted that showed the ways in which choline benefits well-being. Those studies made one fact clear: Choline is an essential nutrient for human health. 

Its designation as an essential nutrient means choline is necessary for optimal wellness. Your liver can make small amounts of choline. However, to get the amounts of this nutrient needed to help your body function at its best, choline intake is required. This can come from choline-rich foods or via choline supplementation. 

Choline is sometimes grouped with B vitamins, and it shares certain similarities with these nutrients. This organic, water-soluble compound impacts several vital bodily functions. 

What is choline doing for your body?

Your digestive system helps make sure your body’s cells get the nutrients they need. It does this by breaking food into portions that are small enough to penetrate each cell. To make nutrition more easily accessible to the cells, the digestive system turns carbohydrates into glucose and proteins into amino acids. And fats are converted into fatty acids that the body needs for proper nourishment. 

Choline helps with this vital breakdown of food. It does so by donating methyl groups to other molecules. A methyl group consists of one carbon atom that’s joined to three hydrogen atoms. The process of donating a methyl group is referred to as methylation. 

If we want to maintain good health, choline must be active in certain organs. This list includes the liver, kidneys and brain. 

By methylating other molecules, choline benefits the body in these ways:

  • Allows cells to communicate with each other via chemical messages
  • Produces acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that supports the nervous system, facilitates healthy brain development and protects against memory loss
  • Assists kidney cells as they remove waste products from the blood
  • Helps create fats that support the healthy function of cell membranes
  • Creates a substance that helps remove cholesterol from the liver

Additionally, choline benefits pregnant women. It provides nourishment that supports brain development in a growing fetus. 

What is choline bitartrate, and what is CDP choline?

Choline can be consumed as a dietary supplement. If you’re in the market for a choline supplement, there are two main choices to consider: 

  • Choline bitartrate 
  • CDP choline

Choline bitartrate is one of the least expensive forms of choline available. A choline bitartrate supplement provides good liver support. It can also help boost choline levels in the blood if there is a deficiency. However, a choline bitartrate supplement won’t provide as much support for the nervous system as one that includes CDC choline. 

CDP choline is also referred to as citicoline. It provides many of the same benefits as choline bitartrate, but it differs in that it is superior in its ability to support the nervous system and the brain. If you’re looking to improve cognition, a CDP choline supplement is a better choice than one made with choline bitartrate. 

Choline-rich foods

Choline-rich foods can help you add more of this nutrient to your diet. Dietary choline usually takes the form of phosphatidylcholine. This is found in lecithin, a type of fat. 

The main sources of choline are animal-based: meat, poultry, dairy products, fish and eggs. However, there are some plant-based dietary sources of this nutrient. You’ll find choline in cruciferous vegetables, certain beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds. 

Here are some common choline-rich foods. We’ve included the amount of choline contained in each serving:

  • Beef liver – 356 mg per 3-ounce serving
  • Hard-boiled egg – 147 mg per egg
  • Braised beef top round – 117 mg per 3-ounce serving
  • Roasted soybeans – 107 mg per ½-cup serving
  • Roasted chicken breast – 72 mg per 3-ounce serving
  • Ground beef – 72 mg per 3-ounce serving
  • Cooked Atlantic cod – 71 mg per 3-ounce serving
  • Red baked potatoes – 57 mg per potato
  • Toasted wheat germ – 51 mg per ounce
  • Canned kidney beans – 45 mg per ½-cup serving
  • Cooked quinoa – 43 mg per cup
  • Milk – 43 mg per cup
  • Yogurt – 38 mg per cup
  • Brussels sprouts – 32 mg per ½-cup serving
  • Broccoli – 31 mg per ½-cup serving
  • Shiitake mushrooms – 27 mg per ½-cup serving 
  • Cottage cheese – 26 mg per cup
  • Canned white tuna – 25 mg per 3-ounce serving
  • Dry roasted peanuts – 24 mg per ¼-cup serving
  • Cauliflower – 24 mg per ½-cup serving
  • Green peas – 24 mg per ½-cup serving
  • Sunflower seeds – 19 mg per ¼-cup serving
  • Brown rice – 19 mg per cup

Choline benefits

So, what is choline capable of doing for your health? Here are some notable choline benefits:

Choline benefit #1: Supports heart health 

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the U.S. Research shows that choline benefits heart health.

Both choline and folate assist the body in the production of homocysteine. Homocysteine helps prevent the body from accumulating too much fat, and it can help reduce your risk of getting a heart attack or a stroke. 

Studies show that long-term consumption of choline can prevent heart disease mortality by decreasing inflammation and other risk factors. 

Choline benefit #2: Supports memory and brain function

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that plays a big role in the way your brain functions. It helps govern memory, and it also plays a role in regulating mood and intelligence. A low level of acetylcholine has been linked with impaired cognitive function — more specifically, memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. 

The body needs adequate choline to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. As such, choline benefits brain health in profound ways. 

2011 study looked at the relationship between choline and cognition. It linked higher choline intake with improved cognitive performance. 

And a 1996 study looked at the role citicoline plays in verbal memory. Participants who were given 1,000 mg of citicoline per day showed improvements in verbal memory functioning. This data suggests that this form of choline may be an effective treatment for age-related cognitive decline. 

Choline benefit #3: Supports healthy liver function

Your body uses choline to help direct fat from the liver to various cells. This nutrient helps move cholesterol and triglycerides from the liver to parts of the body where they are needed. In doing this, choline benefits the liver by cleansing it and keeping it clear of harmful fat buildup. 

Research shows that people with low levels of choline are at higher risk for liver damage and liver failure. And choline deficiency has been linked with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that can lead to liver inflammation and cirrhosis. 

Choline dosage and intake

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), male adults should aim to get at least 550 mg of choline per day. Female adults should aim for choline intake of at least 425 mg daily. 

Here’s the main takeaway regarding adequate choline intake: Most people in the U.S consume less choline than the amounts listed above.

One study found that the average daily choline intake from foods and beverages is 402 mg in men and 278 mg in women. This study suggests that many people would benefit from choline supplementation. 

While choline benefits the health, it’s possible to get too much of a good thing. Excessive choline intake has been linked with fishy body odor, excessive sweating, vomiting and liver toxicity. The NIH states that the tolerable upper intake level for choline is 3,500 mg for adult males and females. 

Next steps

Are you meeting your body’s choline needs? As we’ve mentioned, in many cases, dietary intake doesn’t provide enough choline. A choline supplement may be just what your body needs to help it function at its best. You can find choline supplements online or at your local health food store. 

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