Today choline will have no more secrets for you
Choline is a nutrient that is beneficial for the whole body. By acting both at the level of cell membranes and nerves, this nutrient allows our body to function properly.
-All about choline
What is choline?
Choline is an essential nutrient necessary for the proper functioning of the body. The liver can produce choline. However, this is not enough to cover the daily needs and a dietary intake is necessary. Choline is a water-soluble nutrient, i.e., dispersible in water. Therefore, choline is often grouped with the B vitamins because of their similarities, even though choline is not a vitamin.
Why is choline important?
Choline has a broad spectrum of action. Scientists identify three main areas of action.
Choline, a key player in methylation
Methylation is an essential process for the proper functioning of the body. From a scientific point of view, it is an exchange of methyl groups (a carbon linked to 3 hydrogens) between various molecules. Choline naturally has this methyl group. To be able to transfer it, it must first be transformed into another molecule that is directly involved in the methylation cycle. This methylation process is essential for the expression of genes and the control of certain chronic diseases or developmental abnormalities.
Choline, essential for neurotransmitter synthesis
A second important role of choline is its involvement in the synthesis of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter, i.e., a substance allowing the excitation of nerves. Indeed, choline is one of the two metabolites necessary for the synthesis of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is involved in the learning process and acts mainly on memory, vigilance, reward, and muscle control.
Choline, an important molecule for cell membranes
Finally, choline is also necessary for the synthesis of certain phospholipids which are major components of cell membranes. These phospholipids ensure the good structure and properties of the membranes of all the cells in the body, such as permeability and fluidity, as well as signal transducers between the cells.
What role does the diet play in choline intake?
Insufficient endogenous supply
There is an endogenous production of choline, which means that the body can produce it. However, the body produces only very small quantities, and a contribution through food is thus necessary to avoid deficiencies. Fortunately, choline is found in abundance in the diet.
Daily recommendations from health authorities
The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) recommends an adequate intake of 400 mg/day for men and women over 18 years old. For pregnant women, the adequate intake is 480 mg/day and 520 mg/day for breastfeeding women.
The best food sources of choline
Animal products contain more choline per unit weight than plant products.
|Food||Total choline content|
|Egg, yolk, raw, fresh||680 mg choline / 100g food|
|Beef, liver, cooked, braised||430 mg choline / 100 g food|
|Veal, liver, raw||410 mg choline / 100 g food|
|Chicken, liver, cooked, pan-fried||330 mg choline / 100 g food|
|Turkey, liver, raw||220 mg choline / 100 g food|
|Fish, sockeye salmon, smoked||220 mg choline / 100 g food|
|Pork, salted, bacon, cooked, pan-fried||130 mg choline / 100 g food|
|Soybeans, mature, raw||120 mg choline / 100 g food|
Note that too high an intake of choline, i.e., more than 3.5 grams, may also pose a risk. This excessive intake will be detected by a fishy body odor and sweating.
What are the risks of an inadequate diet?
One of the risks of insufficient choline intake is fatty liver disease. Indeed, when choline intake is insufficient, it leads to abnormalities in the metabolism of fats occurring in the liver. There will be an accumulation of lipids and the development of fatty liver disease.
In addition, low choline levels in pregnant women are linked to neural tube defects in infants. Choline can cross the placental barrier, and thus, allow the proper development of the brain. A deficiency in dietary choline leads to cognitive decline, as well as muscle and DNA damage in humans.
Who particularly needs a good choline intake?
Since choline plays a role in lipid metabolism, overweight people should pay special attention to their dietary choline intake. Choline will effectively play a role in inhibiting fat storage and preventing fat accumulation in the liver.
As seen previously, pregnant women must have a good dietary intake of choline. Indeed, choline will have an impact on the proper development of the fetus’ brain. Athletes should also be aware of the importance of choline for its role in muscle contraction.
Choline is a vital nutrient for the proper functioning of the body. Its three main actions are the synthesis of acetylcholine, an essential neurotransmitter, but also the synthesis of phospholipids composing cell membranes. Finally, choline has a key role in the methylation process.
Key take-home messages
- Choline is an essential nutrient for the proper functioning of the body
- Choline is insufficiently produced by the body
- Egg yolks, beef liver, and chicken liver are good food sources
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women, athletes, and overweight people have a high need for choline
Fatty liver diseases, Are choline and inositol helpful for fatty liver disease?, 2020
Patterson et al., USDA Database for the choline content of common foods, US Department of Agriculture, 2008
Zeisel Steven H., Choline, other methyl-donors and epigenetics, Nutrients, 2017
Zeisel et al., Choline, Advances in nutrition, 2018