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Choline

Other name(s)

choline bitartrate, choline chloride, choline dihydrogen

General description

Choline is a water-soluble component of many important chemicals within the body. Although not all choline functions and interactions are known, it is believed that choline is necessary for normal liver and kidney function. Choline is also a component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a chemical that passes messages between nerves, and between nerves and muscles.

Choline is also the building block of lecithin and sphingomyelins. Lecithin is a major component of cell walls, plasma and lipoproteins. Sphingomyelin is the insulating material of brain and nerve tissue.

Medically valid uses

Most people obtain sufficient choline from their diet. Because deficiency occurs only under unusual circumstances, use of choline supplements is limited. Choline currently does not have a well-established use as a supplement in healthy individuals.

Unsubstantiated claims

Please note that this section reports on claims that have NOT yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

Choline supplements have been suggested for the treatment of certain neurological disorders associated with the cholinergic system, but studies have demonstrated that oral supplements of choline do not affect brain metabolism.

Choline is claimed to be useful in the treatment of:

  • Tardive dyskinesia

  • Huntington's chorea

  • Tourette's syndrome

  • Friedreich's ataxia

  • Presenile dementia

  • Fatty liver and cirrhosis

In addition, choline supplements have been reported to reduce cholesterol, control mood swings, protect the liver from damage attributed to alcohol, decrease blood pressure, improve memory, and treat Alzheimer's disease. Choline is also claimed to increase athletic performance.

Recommended intake

The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine has established an Adequate Intake (AI) of choline as 550 milligrams (mg) for adult men and 425 mg for adult women. An average diet generally supplies these amounts of choline.

Foods containing choline include egg yolks, soybean, wheat germ, peanuts, and liver.

Although not yet demonstrated in humans, choline deficiency in animals may lead to abnormal liver function and kidney damage. Choline-associated liver dysfunction has led to liver cancer in laboratory animals.

People being fed intravenously may develop low serum levels of choline and require choline supplements.

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

Choline in normal doses may cause stomachache, diarrhea or loose stools. Large quantities (~20 g) have been associated with dizziness, hypotension, fishy body odor, depression, and electrocardiographic abnormalities.

Choline may cause depression in some patients. Choline should not be used by people with bipolar disorder.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult a physician before taking any dietary supplements.

There are no known interactions between choline and any food or drug. Low serum folate levels (insufficient folic acid) may increase the requirements for choline.

Additional information

Click here for a list of reputable websites with general information on nutrition.

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