What is Choline? Benefits, Uses and More

Jul 11, 2022 , Pregnancy Tips

What is Choline? Benefits, Uses and More

Quick Health Scoop

  • Choline is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in the proper functioning of your brain, nervous system, and overall health.
  • Your body can produce small amounts of Choline, but not enough to maintain health, so you need to eat Choline-rich foods to ensure you’re getting enough of this key nutrient.
  • Dietary Choline sources include foods of animal origin such as beef liver, egg yolks, salmon, milk, legumes, and chicken breast.
  • Certain groups of people are more likely to have low levels of Choline, including pregnant and breastfeeding women and vegans and vegetarians.

Did you know that 90 percent of Americans are not getting enough Choline in their diet? [1] While Choline is present in a variety of foods, many people just aren’t eating enough Choline-rich foods to ensure optimal health. And certain groups of people face a greater risk of not getting enough choline.

Not familiar with Choline? It’s actually a fairly “new” nutrient in terms of being recognized as an essential nutrient to good health. In fact, it wasn’t until 1998 that the Institute of Medicine acknowledged Choline as a required nutrient. [2]

But exactly what is Choline? Similar to a vitamin, this essential nutrient is involved in many physiological processes and plays a vital role in brain health, nervous system functioning, and overall health. [3] Among other functions, the body converts Choline into a neurotransmitter (called acetylcholine) that helps with muscle contraction, pain response activation, and brain functioning (such as thinking and memory. [4] 

Interested in learning more? Let’s dig in to learn more about the health benefits of Choline.

What Functions Does Choline Serve For The Body?

Choline (as phosphatidylcholine or acetylcholine)) serves a variety of important functions in the body, including the following: [3] 

  • Maintain structural integrity of cell membranes
  • Help with cell signaling
  • Helps transport fats and is needed for fat metabolism Assist in nerve impulse transmission
  • Work with several B-vitamins (including Folate, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12) to metabolize nucleic and amino acids

What Does Choline Do For The Body?

Knowing the important functions that Choline serve in the body, what health benefits does Choline provide? [1,5,6,7]

  • Supports healthy brain and nervous system function
  • Choline is needed to make acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter that regulates mood, memory and muscle control as well as other functions
  • Supports healthy liver function Essential for fat and cholesterol transport

When Should I Take Choline?

Your body can make Choline in the liver, but only in small amounts. [6] To ensure you get adequate Choline intake from food, you should get what you need through dietary Choline. Which foods contain Choline? Food sources with the highest Choline concentrations include beef liver (418 mg), chicken liver (290 mg), and eggs (251 mg). [1] Other Choline-rich foods include milk and peanuts [5] Although several Choline-rich foods (think liver, red meat, and egg yolks) tend to be higher in saturated fat, you can also find Choline in foods lower in saturated fat such as legumes, chicken breast, cod, salmon, and tilapia. [4] 

Everyone needs daily Choline intakes for optimum health. But the amount of Choline you need daily depends on your sex, age, and whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Experts recommend these daily dosages for men, women, and children: [6]

  • Birth to 6 months: 125 mg
  • Babies (7-12 months): 150 mg
  • Children (ages 1-3 years): 200 mg
  • Children (ages 4–8): 250 mg
  • Children (ages 9–13): 375 mg
  • Adolescent boys (ages 14-18): 550 mg
  • Adolescent girls (ages 14-18): 400 mg
  • Men (ages 19+): 550 mg
  • Women (ages 19+) 425 mg
  • Pregnant teens and women 450 mg
  • Breastfeeding teens and women 550 mg

In particular, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you need to pay special attention to your dietary Choline intake. Why? Because adequate maternal Choline intake supports the development of your baby's brain and spinal cord.

What Groups Are At Risk For Low Choline?

Most Americans don’t get enough dietary Choline. [6] The following groups of people, in particular, face a higher likelihood of getting insufficient Choline from their diet[1,6,7]

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • People who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet
  • People who have certain genetic conditions
  • People who are being fed intravenously 

While a pregnant woman’ body can produce Choline in small amounts, dietary intake is required to support the health of both mom and baby. Choline supplementation may also help meet this specific nutrient need during pregnancy. [8] Moreover, pregnant women transfer large amounts of Choline to their baby via the placenta, placing an increased demand on maternal Choline stores during pregnancy. [9] In fact, in the U.S., a majority of women of childbearing age aren’t meeting the recommended adequate intake for Choline from diet alone. [10] Choline (and DHA) play a significant role in infant brain and eye development. But even if you’re not pregnant or breastfeeding, the vast majority of U.S. adults don’t get enough Choline. [8]  About 9 in 10 US adults do not meet the recommended intake levels for choline.  

If you’re worried about getting enough Choline, you might consider taking a Choline supplement or multivitamin that contains Choline—often in the form of Choline bitartrate, lecithin, or phosphatidylcholine. [6] And if you’re pregnant, you might consider taking prenatal multivitamins specifically formulated for a pregnant woman’s unique nutritional needs. For instance, Prenatal Gummies With 58 Mg DHA includes 55 mg of Choline. As always, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk with your primary care physician first before taking any dietary supplements.

Learn More: Prenatals vs Multivitamin

Bottom Line

What is Choline? As a nutrient essential to your overall health and well-being, Choline plays a key role. In particular, the benefits of Choline include being a key component of a healthy nervous system and brain. Because your body can only make small amounts of Choline, you need to ensure adequate Choline intake through your diet. Choline can be found in beef liver, egg yolks, salmon, milk, legumes, and chicken breast.

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.


† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


References 

  1. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. “Nutritional Importance of Choline for Brain Development.” June 18, 2013. Accessed on: June 7, 2022. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2004.10719433
  2. Nutrient Review. “ Choline: An Essential nutrient for Public Health.” November 25, 2009. Accessed on: June 7, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2782876/
  3. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute. “Choline.” February 2015. Accessed on: June 8, 2022. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/Choline
  4. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Choline.” 2022. Accessed on: June 8, 2022. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/Choline/
  5. Harvard Health Publishing. “Listing of Vitamins.” August 31, 2020. Accessed on: June 7, 2022. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/listing_of_vitamins
  6. National Institutes of Health. “Choline.” June 2, 2022. Accessed on: June 8, 2022. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Choline-Consumer/
  7. Cleveland Clinic. “Choline supplement.” December 14, 2021. Accessed on: June 8, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/22202-Choline-supplement
  8. “Choline and DHA in Maternal and Infant Nutrition: Synergistic Implications in Brain and Eye Health.” May 2019. Accessed on: June 8, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566660/
  9. International Journal of Women’s Health. “Nutrition in pregnancy: the argument for including a source of Choline. April 22, 2013. Accessed on: June 8, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23637565/
  10. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Total estimated usual nutrient intake and nutrient status biomarkers in women of childbearing age and women of menopausal age.” April 2021. Accessed on: June 8, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33567452/

Authors

Lisa Beach

NatureMade Contributor

Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.

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Sandra Zagorin, MS, RD

Science and Health Educator

As a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Sandra educates healthcare professionals and consumers on nutrition, supplements, and related health concerns. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Sandra worked as a clinical dietitian at University of Chicago Medicine in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandra received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, with minors in Spanish and Chemistry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from RUSH University in Chicago, IL. As part of her Master’s program, Sandra performed research on physical activity participation and correlates in urban Hispanic women.

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