Choline is not a vitamin or a mineral, but it is an essential nutrient. Although the body can create choline in small amounts, it cannot make enough to maintain health. Choline must be consumed in the diet.
Choline is a component of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is involved in functions such as muscle movement, and memory formation.
Most of the body's choline is found in phospholipids, which are fat molecules. The most common of these is phosphatidylcholine, better known as lecithin.
Choline's functions include:
Although the body can make choline, it cannot make enough to maintain proper health and functioning. Therefore, it is possible for your choline levels to become too low if your diet does not contain enough. Because choline is essential for the transport of fat from the liver, deficiency symptoms include:
The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for choline from dietary sources and supplements combined is:
Symptoms of choline toxicity include:
Major Food Sources
Very little information is available on the choline content of foods; however, some good sources of choline include:
Populations at Risk for Choline Deficiency
The following populations may be at risk for a choline deficiency and may benefit from a supplement:
Choline and Alzheimer's Disease
Because choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important in learning and memory, it has been studied for a possible role in Alzheimer's disease. Studies have been conducted, but a review of clinical trials found no benefit of supplementation with lecithin in the treatment of people with dementia.
Tips for Increasing Your Choline Intake
To help increase your intake of choline:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
American Society for Nutrition
Dietitians of Canada
Choline. Complementary Therapies . March 2002.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Folate, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B12, Panthothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences USA. Washington DC: National Academy Press; 1998.
Dietary reference intakes: vitamins. Institute of Medicine website. Available at: http://www.iom.edu.... Accessed September 17, 2012.
Lecithin for dementia and cognitive impairment. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews . 2000.
Micronutrient Information Center: choline. Oregon State University, The Linus Pauling Institute website. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/othernuts/choline/. Updated August 18, 2009. Accessed September 17, 2012.
Ralf J, Purpura M, et al. Phospholipids and sports performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4:5.
Zeisel SH. Choline: Needed for Normal Development of Memory. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2000;19(5suppl):528S-531S.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Brian Randall, MD