Choline is a vital nutrient that is often overlooked, because of misinformation or lack of knowing… find out why you need choline in your diet and whether or not you're already getting enough (heads up, you're probably not)…
This post has been sponsored in part by MegaFoods, a company I trust to provide products of highest quality with integrity. As always, despite any compensation, monetary or otherwise, all thoughts, views, and words are my own.
I recently attended a conference where I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Tieraona Low Dog speak about nutrition, more specifically, how we're deficient in certain nutrients that are seriously vital to our health. She discussed scientific developments in the importance of certain vitamins and minerals that I was familiar with, including Magnesium and Vitamin D, etc. And, she surprised us by making us think outside the organic box and opening our eyes to the fact that unfortunately, most organic cereals aren't vitamin-fortified like their conventional counterparts.
This may not seem like a big deal, but when you think of iron, for example, most kids aren't getting enough in their diets… so to compound that by feeding them non-iron-fortified cereal in the morning for breakfast… although I still believe organic is best… it's something to be mindful of that our kiddos may not be getting the vital nutrients they need!
The most surprising of the choice nutrients she talked about for me though, was choline. I'd heard of it, but really didn't understand how important it is to so many of our bodily functions, including supporting our livers for detox, preventing/treating fatty liver, helpful in brain function, and more.
Pregger-ladies, are you with me? Pay attention to this next part!
The thing that Really made me listen, was that choline's been shown to help protect a developing fetus at the placenta from it's mother's stress hormones, which can offer life long protection for resilience in stressful times along with increased IQ levels.
Who doesn't want a smarter baby who can handle themselves under pressure?? Pretty impressive! It's safe to say we've all heard about supplementing folic acid during pregnancy (for cognitive support), but it definitely made me want to learn more about this new kid nutrient on the block, choline!
What is choline?
So for starters… let's address what choline is, and then we can find out if you're getting enough (heads up, you're probably not)… and we'll talk about how you can get this vital nutrient into your diet more consistently.
Choline is a vitamin-like nutrient that's essential to the body for a multitude of purposes. It's not technically a vitamin, but it's considered to be in the B-vitamin family along with others like Folate. It's water-soluble, which means it dissolves in water, and the kidneys will work to remove excess amounts of it if that ends up being an issue.
Humans make a small amount of choline in the liver, and so, up until recently, it was thought this was enough, and that we didn't need to incorporate it additionally in the diet. The recommendations were changed in 1998, however, when it was discovered that humans actually don't make enough choline to sustain proper functionality, and an “Adequate Intake” level was established to help people make sure they're actually getting enough.
Health Benefits of Choline (aka…What does choline do exactly?)
Choline is beneficial in so many different capacities, but here's an overview of it's primary functions…
- Metabolic Syndrome, Homocysteine, & Liver Function – Research suggests that choline deficiency can result in something called “metabolic syndrome“, putting the body at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Although choline supplementation alone may not improve the outcome for all of these issues, it certainly can contribute to healthier liver function and metabolic process for clearing the body of fat cells and toxins. (source) Studies have shown that a choline-rich diet contributes to lowered homocysteine levels in the body, which in turn can reduce risks for heart disease, blood clot formation, and stroke. (source)
- Decreased Inflammation – Inflammation in the body can have negative effects in numerous ways, most concerning would be contributing to cognitive decline (developing Alzheimer's, etc), arthritis, heart disease, and even making cells more susceptible to cancer growth. Numerous studies have shown that a choline-rich diet can act to decrease inflammation in a multitude of ways to benefit the body. For example, here's an interesting study on the benefits of phosphatidylcholine therapy in patients with ulcerative colitis.
- Fetal & Early Childhood Development – As mentioned before, like folic acid, choline plays a role in preventing birth defects, and may also provide life-long protection against anxiety and exaggerated responses to stressors. According to a study published in 2014 in the Public Health Nutrition Journal, 95% of pregnant women had a sub-optimal intake of choline. (source) Babies have a higher need for choline in their diets while their brains and nervous systems are rapidly growing as choline supports brain development and cognitive function. (source)
- Normal Cell Function & Methylation – Okay, so, methylation is still a little bit intangible for me… but here's how Chris Kresser explains it, “Methylation is a vital metabolic process that happens in every cell and every organ of our body. Life would simply not exist without it. It takes place more than a billion times per second in the body. That should give you some idea of how important methylation is. Anything that’s happening a billion times per second is probably pretty crucial to our survival and well-being. It happens when one molecule passes a methyl group, which is a carbon atom linked to three hydrogens, to another molecule, so it’s a pretty basic biochemical process.” Choline is one of those key nutrients in supporting healthy cell function proliferation and methylation. I won't get any more in-depth on this here, but this goes along with the whole anti-inflammation, metabolic process, homocysteine deal… for example: betaine, which is a metabolite of choline, is critical in methylation of homocysteine. (source)
- Mental Health – In short, if your body isn't “methylating” properly, imbalances in neuro-function (and possibly inflammation) can lead to anxiety and other mood disorders. This may be particularly true for vegetarians and vegans who aren't getting essential vitamins in their diet (such as those found in liver, eggs, etc, which are sources rich in choline among other vital nutrients). (source)
Signs of Choline deficiency
There is some evidence to suggest that even though you may be getting “enough” choline in your diet, you might still be at risk for deficiency. This may be at least in part due to the fact that some people are genetically at a disadvantage for choline absorption… meaning that even if they're eating a choline-rich diet, their body may not be able to utilize it for some reason. In this case, increasing choline intake seems to help offset some of that issue.
That's why I wanted to talk about some of the signs of choline deficiency, because even if you're eating a choline-rich diet, you may be one of those who needs an even greater intake to get adequate levels.
Some of the signs of choline deficiency include diagnosis of “Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease” (NAFLD), fat accumulation in the liver cells which make it harder for the liver to function properly. (source) This issue seems to be compounded by the fact that someone who HAS fatty liver disease is at an increased risk for choline deficiency. It may be hard to tell whether or not this is an issue since imaging is required to confirm a diagnosis of FLD, however elevated liver enzymes on lab markers are a less costly alternative and can offer insight on whether or not there may be a problem.
Other symptoms of choline deficiency may include signs of cognitive decline or muscle fatigue, since choline is key in supporting neuro & muscular function.
For someone deficient in choline, this might look like low energy levels, muscle aches, memory loss, brain fog, learning disabilities (particularly in children), nerve damage or pain, and possibly even mood alterations or disorders.
Most of the research suggests that once adequate intake of choline is achieved, the ailing symptoms (including fatty liver) resolve.
For something pretty simple to remedy, I think taking a look at your choline intake and making sure you're getting enough is absolutely necessary!
How much Choline should you be getting?
Choline was officially recognized as an essential nutrient by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 1998, but data gathered from a 2007-2008 NHANES study shows that roughly 90% of Americans don't get enough choline. That's a HUGE bummer, and what's even worse is that many people (an estimated 40%+) have a genetic disposition that increases their need for choline even greater than the baseline intake recommendation.
Although studies are still being done on choline, most experts are in agreement that Adequate Intake for choline is as follows (source):
- Infants (0-6 mths): 125 mg/day
- Babies (7-12 mths): 150 mg/day
- Children (1-3 years): 200 mg/day
- Children (4-8 years): 250 mg/day
- Children (9-13 years): 375 mg/day
- Girls (14-18 years): 400 mg/day
- Boys (14-18 years): 550 mg/day
- Women (19+): 425 mg/day
- Men (19+): 550 mg/day
- *Pregnant Women (14+): 450 mg/day
- *Lactating Women (14+): 550 mg/day
Increased need for Choline during Pregnancy & Lactation
As I've researched more, it also seems that there's an association between optimal choline intake and a decrease for risk of pre-eclampsia and premature birth… possibly as a result of choline's connection to lowered homocysteine levels. We still don't fully understand what causes pre-eclampsia… but as someone who has suffered personally from pre-eclampsia, this definitely piqued my interest and at the very least I believe is cause to mindfully increase choline intake especially during pregnancy.
For lactating women, the increased need should be somewhat obvious. The baby is needing this vital nutrient through it's mother's milk and if Momma isn't getting enough… neither is baby. For the record, the FDA requires that store-bought formulas have to have choline, but I would double check the label to make sure it's in there.
Foods high in Choline…
Here are some of the foods highest in choline to help you reach your recommended adequate daily intake. (source)
|Food||Serving||Total Choline (mg)|
|Beef liver, pan fried||3 ounces*||356|
|Wheat germ, toasted||1 cup||202|
|Beef, trim cut, cooked||3 ounces||97|
|Scallop, cooked, steamed||3 ounces||94|
|Salmon, pink, canned||3 ounces||75|
|Chicken, breast, cooked, roasted||3 ounces||73|
|Atlantic cod, cooked||3 ounces||71|
|Shrimp, canned||3 ounces||69|
|Brussel sprouts, cooked, boiled||1 cup||63|
|Broccoli, cooked, boiled||1 cup, chopped||63|
|Milk, skim||8 fluid ounces||38|
|Peanut butter, smooth||2 tablespoons||20|
|Milk chocolate||1.5-ounce bar||20|
I think it's always best to try to get vitamins and nutrients through a real-food diet, but certain factors may make this challenging.
Some individuals, particularly those at risk for additional deficiency through a genetic-variation or those with increased need during pregnancy and lactation, or who have made dietary choices that don't include choline-rich foods (veganism for example) may find it especially difficult to get enough choline. This may be the truth for all kinds of vitamins/nutrients, and so for me, it seems like a no-brainer that adding a quality nutrient supplement to your diet will help to close any nutritional gaps that may exist.
I personally have made a commitment to myself this year to be mindful of the gap between what I'm actually eating (real-food or otherwise) and what my body really needs for optimal functioning. For me, this is where the rubber meets the road… so many people wait until the “check engine” light is flashing before doing something about their health, but we're all about preventing, right?! Making sure you're getting adequate amounts of the vitamins and nutrients essential to your health is the first step in this equation, and one that so many of us overlook or think isn't really all that important.
The best way I know how to MAKE SURE that I'm getting essential nutrients, like choline, in my diet daily is by taking a high-quality, real-food supplement.
MegaFood Multi for Women
I have tried several vitamin supplements over the past several years. Most have missed the mark. Many aren't worth your money! I think we all understand this, but finding a really high quality supplement can be challenging… where do you go, how do you know what information you can trust? I hope you've found some valuable information here and can trust that the recommendations I make come from a place of personal extensive research. I only recommend products and companies who I feel I can fully stand behind, and that I personally use in my own home with my own family.
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