Choline is arguably the most under-studied and under-consumed essential nutrient in the human diet. Our new data indicate that only about 10.8% of Americans obtain their recommended intakes of choline from the diet. Vegetarians are at even greater risk of choline insufficiency. So what’s the downside of not getting enough choline? That’s exactly what we are just beginning to discover!
It has long been known that choline plays a key role in biological processes such as neurotransmission and cell signaling. When choline is deprived from the diet, most individuals suffer both liver and muscle damage. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is common among these individuals.
New data suggest that the estrogen may help to prevent the extent of liver and muscle damage in premenopausal women who do not consume adequate choline from the diet. It’s the body’s natural defense for the woman in case she becomes pregnant. Lactating women who breast-fed are often depleted of choline because it is so vital for health and development of the infant. Concentrations of choline in breast milk are ~15 times higher than in the mother’s bloodstream. I would suspect (and there are some emerging data to support this notion) that many lactating women develop undiagnosed fatty liver disease due to choline inadequacy.
Choline is not a universal component of most prenatal vitamins / multivitamins, but infant formula is commonly fortified to levels naturally present in breast milk. This is concerning given that new data have shown that breast-fed infants whose mothers were supplemented with choline show increased neuronal development (you can take a picture and visually recognize more neurons in the baby’s brain). This equates to higher IQs, faster reaction times, and better cognition in kids years after they have stopped breast-feeding.
Adults who have adequate intakes of choline across the lifespan have been suggested to have a lower incidence of dementia and other neurological disorders later in life. Again – the data is emerging but the insuffiency of choline across the population is of great concern. While estrogen in women helps to modulate this effect, at least until menopause, guys you got the unlucky end of the stick your whole life!
So how much choline do you need? Where can you get dietary sources of choline? Check out my former blog on “Choline Intakes and Recommendations are Suboptimal.”
Visit the Choline Information Council for additional information!