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What is choline, and what is it good for?

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Choline is an essential nutrient vital for many body functions, such as nerve signaling, as well as liver and muscle functioning. The body can't make enough choline on its own, so we need to get it from our diet.

 

Compared to omega-3s, which were discovered almost a century ago, choline is a
newcomer to the nutritional scene. It wasn’t recognized as an essential nutrient until 1998, when a study by the Institute of Medicine discovered that choline deficiency can lead to fatty liver disease and muscle damage.


Still, choline remains under the radar of most of us. Even some health care professionals don’t regularly communicate the importance of choline for good health.

This is beginning to change, though, as choline is finally stepping out of the shadows to assume its rightful place in the world of nutrition.

Numerous studies have been done on choline, and we’re here to give you only what you need to know: Why is choline so important for your health, what health benefits can you expect, and how can you get more of it in your diet?

 

Why do you need choline?

Choline is a vitamin-like essential nutrient. This means it's required for normal bodily function and human health. To be more precise, it’s crucial for normal cellular function and is particularly important for liver health, heart health and brain development. 

Many organs, such as the brain, liver, kidney, pancreas and muscles, all depend on adequate choline intake.

Key takeaway: You need to obtain the recommended daily amount of choline to stay healthy.

 

Read more: Choline, an important, yet underrated nutrient

 

What are the health benefits of choline?

Choline is vital to four areas of health, at all ages and stages of life. 

 

Brain 

Choline is a critical component of the building blocks of the nervous system, including neurotransmitters that are the basis for brain messaging. Furthermore, it has been shown to positively impact brain development. Not getting the recommended daily amount of choline in your diet may play a role in decreased cognition and memory with age.

 

Liver 

Choline helps remove fat from your liver. This prevents nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). According to the Mayo Clinic, NAFLD affects an estimated 80 million to 100 million Americans. In Europe, it’s the fastest growing health epidemic, affecting 1 in 4 people.

 

Heart 

Choline is instrumental in supporting the nerve impulse systems that promote a strong heart muscle and regular heartbeat. Choline helps to keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, in part by helping to reduce blood pressure. It also has an important role in regulating homocysteine levels in the heart which, if rise to high, can have negative effects on your heart.  

 

Pregnancy

The importance of ensuring adequate choline intake during pregnancy is increasingly recognized. According to a 2019 study, supplementing the maternal diet with additional choline has been shown to improve offspring cognition, neurodevelopment and placental functioning, as well as protecting against neural and metabolic insults.

 

Key takeaway: Choline is crucially important for a healthy brain and strong memory. It helps keep your heart in check, may help prevent fatty liver disease and may even help you perform at your peak during exercise.

Read more: Why is choline an important nutrient for human health?

 

Where can you get choline from your diet?

Although the body produces a small amount of choline on its own, we need to obtain the rest from our diets in order to help us meet optimal levels and maintain good health. 

Choline is naturally found in foods such as …

  • Eggs (egg yolks are the most concentrated food source of choline)
  • Milk
  • Beef and chicken liver
  • High-quality wild-caught fish and shellfish (tuna, salmon, scallop)
  • Cod
  • Soybeans
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Peanut butter
  • Chocolate 

… and more.

 

Do you get enough choline?

Probably not.


Nine in 10 Americans are not consuming enough choline to ensure optimal health, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Studies show that the European population is not consuming enough choline either.


These days, both Americans and Europeans are eating less foods that offer the richest sources of choline – liver, eggs, and a variety of meats. The adequate daily intake level for choline has been set at 550 mg. However, actual daily intakes are considerably lower: 402 mg. In other words, a 148 mg gap.

 

What happens if you don’t get enough of choline in your diet?


Choline deficiency is found to have an impact on diseases like atherosclerosis, liver dysfunction and possibly also neurological disorders. Without adequate choline, liver fat may accumulate, eventually leading to steatosis and potentially to liver damage. 


According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, low intakes of choline may predispose us to impaired cognitive function, particularly memory loss and Alzheimer’s Disease.


Key takeaway:
Although choline is present in everyday foods, it can be quite difficult to consume the recommended amounts through our diets. Most people in Western countries, specifically, are not getting the recommended daily amount of choline in their diet, which can lead to health issues.


This is why it’s important to consider taking a supplement to help boost your choline levels. 


Choline is a key component of krill oil, making this a popular way to get the amount of choline your body needs.

 

Summary

Choline is an important nutrient that is sometimes forgotten among other vitamins, but it’s actually critical for maintaining good health, beginning with pregnancy and continuing throughout life. To that end, it’s essential that you get enough choline from your diet.

 

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