Health Benefits Of Choline, Side Effects, Sources And Foods
What is Choline?
Choline (2-hydroxy-N,N,N-trimethylethanaminium) is a water soluble nutrient that is closely related to the B complex of Vitamins. While your body naturally makes a small amount of this compound, we require external sources from our diet and supplements in order to meet our daily needs. This essential nutrient is used in our liver to prevent the build-up of fat but its most important role is in contributing to certain brain systems. Choline is used to develop and maintain health brain cells, especially by improving the signaling capacity, structural integrity and fluidity of neuronal membranes. It has been found that Choline needs are especially high for babies developing in the womb when an estimated 50,000 neurons per second are being formed. One study in animal subjects found that pregnant mothers who were given greater amounts of Choline had offspring with higher IQs than their counterparts with lower intakes.
In pregnant women, choline plays an equally, if not more, important role, helping to prevent certain birth defects, such as spina bifida, and playing a role in brain development.
Choline is an essential nutrient your body makes in small amounts, however you must consume it through your diet to get enough. In adults, choline helps keep your cell membranes functioning properly, plays a role in nerve communications, prevents the buildup of homocysteine in your blood (elevated levels are linked to heart disease) and reduces chronic inflammation. More recent research using choline-depleted diets has demonstrated that we really do require some outside help from our food to keep our bodies running well.
Health Benefits Of Choline
The biochemical compound called choline is often classed as a vitamin, one reason for it being the deleterious effect on health due to low dietary levels of this vitamin. Several neurological disorders can be treated using choline, these diseases include serious disorders such as tardive dyskinesia, cases of Huntington's disease, as well as Gilles de la Tourette's disease or syndrome, disorders such as Friedreich's ataxia, disorders like presenile dementia, disorders like long term manic depression as well as cases of Alzheimer's disease.
Choline started to get the interest of nutrition researchers when it was found that fetal rats whose mothers didn't get enough choline in their diets had less brain development and poorer memories after birth than those whose mothers ate adequate amounts of the nutrient. Over the past few years, there has been a rush of research, and there are now hints that choline may be essential not only for the brain development of fetuses and infants, but may help prevent memory loss associated with aging (although attempts to reverse cognitive decline have been disappointing).
The role of the compound choline in maintaining normal neurological function is the main key to its great importance in all the alleviation of many kinds of neurological disorders. The compound choline forms an important part of the neurotransmistting substance called acetylcholine. The presence of a compound called a neurotransmitter is essential during the salutatory movement of a nerve impulse that occurs when the impulse must jump the gap from one neuron to the other. The apparent simplicity of this reaction must not make one lose sight of its great biochemical significance. Nerve impulse conduction is in fact, the very basis of how we humans act and feel.
The sudden onset of partial or complete memory loss is usually the first symptom of Alzheimer's disease. The chemical acetylcholine is believed by most researchers to be the main chemical involved in regulating memory functions at the level of nerve cells in the human body. This may indeed be a fact, and increasing the intake of acetylcholine in the diet can result in an increase in the concentrations of acetylcholine in the diet and result in an improvement in the memory. The results from several studies where Alzheimer's disease patients were given supplementary choline are indeed something to look forward to almost as a panacea.
Tardive dyskinesia has similarities to Huntington's chorea or what is called Huntington's disease - in both diseases the sufferer can lose their control over certain muscles in the body. However, compared to tardive dyskinesia, this condition is not brought about by the use of medications alone and some patients can be affected by dementia along with the spasms in the muscles. While supplements of choline have brought significant success in the treatment of tardive dyskinesia affected patents, the same has not been true in the treatment of this disease, even though the results are encouraging enough to warrant further study of the disorder for the eventual welfare of patients already suffering from this disease.
As far as diseases that affect the nervous system are concerned, the compound choline is increasingly being viewed more positively and its potential applications in treating diseases of the nervous system is being appreciated as evidence gathers from clinical studies carried out around the world. Recent Europe based research gives evidence that this vitamin like compound can be effective in treating depressive diseases of all kinds. A range of symptoms that affected eight psychiatric patients was studied in a clinical controlled setting, these symptoms included problems like hypochondria, persistent depression, constant sleeplessness, suicidal tendencies and paranoia, persistent problems like anxiety and moodiness among others. The administration of choline injections brought about significant improvements in all the patients who were affected by these symptoms. The complete elimination of depression in the patients under investigation was the most consistent effect induced by choline injections.
Choline is taken by pregnant women to prevent neural tube defects in their babies and it is used as a supplement in infant formulas.
Good food sources of Choline
There are a wide range of dosages available for supplemental choline supplements - these ranges from a few milligrams per tablet to tablets that are several hundred milligrams per dose. Supplemental choline of some types can have a negative effect in that they are easily degraded by the bacteria in the gut and this leads to the production of a chemical substance that brings out a fishy odor from the mouth. As the compound lecithin is absorbed by the intestine, the same problem is not seen in people who use supplements of lecithin. There is a major disadvantage with the use of lecithin as the compound can bring in a significant number of calories into the body.
Lecithin, an oily compound sourced from soybeans or corn and found in egg yolks and milk is the best natural source for choline used in supplements. Lecithin was used as the main source of choline in some of the studies mentioned above. Choline is almost always found in other sources of B vitamins, in foods like yeast and whole grains, in fish and eggs, in liver, other organ meats and legumes. In 2004, the USDA conducted an analysis of the choline quantities in various foods that make up the typical North American diet. Some choline-rich foods include beef liver, whole eggs, navy beans, ground beef and cauliflower. Paradoxically, in many cases if you were to use foods as your only source of choline you would end up exceeding certain dietary recommendations for cholesterol and caloric intake in order to get enough of this nutrient.
Many individuals find it necessary to turn to choline supplements in order to satisfy their daily requirements or to use as cognitive enhancers. But when it comes to brainpower, not all types of choline are equal. You can buy choline sources in several different formats with varying degrees of potency and varying benefits for intellectual function. The higher quality sources are identified as having better acetylcholine conversion while some of the lower quality supplements may give you large choline dosages but do not actually end up being synthesized into acetylcholine. This has to do with how your body processes and absorbs the different types of supplements. While some of these supplements are highly bioavailable, others may not be fully absorbed into your bloodstream.
Risk of Dietary Deficiency Choline
There is very little known about the real nature of a human deficiency of choline as deficiency in this nutrient is rare. At the same time a choline deficiency has been artificially induced in test subjects in a clinical setting.
Our knowledge of exactly how much choline an average person eats in a day is limited by an incomplete understanding of how much of it is found in commonly eaten foods. Still, researchers have published ballpark estimates of between 700 and 1000 mg of choline as an average American adult intake. This amount clearly exceeds our WHFoods recommendation of 425 mg per day.
Note that each of these meals contains "at least" a certain amount of choline because some of the ingredients have not been formally assessed for choline content. While this daily menu contains plenty of choline, it may actually contain even more than we are aware.
Choline Side effects and cautions
Choline is considered to be among the safest nutrients with very low occurrence of side effects and no serious risk factors. In some cases, if you exceed the recommended choline dosage you may experience diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, higher blood pressure and excessive perspiration. Some people develop a symptom called fish odor syndrome due to an individual inability to metabolize trimethylamine which is produced when eating foods with Choline. You can prevent this side effect by using a high quality supplement like Alpha GPC or Citicoline or by reducing your intake to suggested dose levels.
There is some concern that increasing dietary choline intake might increase the risk of cancer of the colon and rectum. One study found that women eating a diet that contains a lot of choline have an increased the risk of colon cancer. However, more research is still needed to determine the effects of diet on colon cancer.
Doses up to 3 grams daily for pregnant and breast-feeding women up to 18 years of age, and 3.5 grams daily for women 19 years and older are not likely to cause unwanted side effects. There isn’t enough information available about the safety of choline used in higher doses in pregnant or lactating women. It’s best to stick to recommended doses.