Choline was discovered in 1862, but it was 1998 before the Institute of Medicine declared it an essential nutrient for optimal health. Unfortunately, 90% of the population does not consume enough of it, likely since popular dietary guidelines limit consumption of the richest dietary sources.

Many are still unaware of the biological importance choline plays and it may be one of the least likely nutrients to be recommended. Choline is not a vitamin or mineral, but an organic water-soluble compound scientists often group with vitamin B complex since the function is similar.

Although your liver has the ability to produce small amounts, you need to consume the majority of the nutrient from the foods you eat. Some people opt to use dietary supplements, but that may not be the best choice. I suggest you optimise your levels by eating choline-rich foods.

Choline Is Essential for Optimal Health

Researchers have linked the intake of higher levels of choline to a range of benefits including a reduced risk for heart disease, prevention of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and a 24% reduced risk for breast cancer.

Choline appears to be a key controlling factor in:

Healthy fetal development — Choline is required for proper neural tube closure, brain development and healthy vision. Research shows children of mothers who get enough choline enjoy better memory due to changes in the development of the hippocampus (memory centre) of the child's brain. Choline deficiency raises the risk of premature birth, low birth weight and preeclampsia.

Synthesis of phospholipids — The most common phospholipid is phosphatidylcholine, better known as lecithin, which constitutes between 40 and 50 percent of your cellular membranes and 70 to 95 percent of the phospholipids in lipoproteins and bile.

Nervous system health — Choline is necessary for making acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in healthy muscle, heart and memory performance.

Cell messaging — Choline is one factor in the production of cell-messaging compounds.

Fat transport and metabolism — Choline is needed to carry cholesterol from your liver, and a deficiency could result in excess fat and cholesterol buildup.

DNA synthesis — Choline aids in the process of DNA synthesis with other vitamins, such as folate and B12.

Improved cognitive performance — Researchers found a relationship between high dietary choline and better cognitive performance in a study involving men and women. In a group of 1,391 men and women, performance factors were better in those who consumed more choline, adding to evidence your nutrition makes a difference in how your brain ages.

Methylation reactions

Healthy mitochondrial function

How Much Choline Do You Need?

A Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) has not been established, but the Institute of Medicine set an adequate daily intake value for men, women and children. The daily values are 425 mg per day for women, 550 mg for men and 250 mg for children as a minimum amount to prevent choline deficiency and potential organ damage.

However, requirements may vary depending on your overall diet, genetic makeup and other lifestyle factors. For instance, those who eat a diet rich in saturated fats may require more choline. For the liver to export excess fat it requires choline. This means, the more dietary fat you consume, the greater your need for choline. Individuals who may need to pay special attention to this requirement include:

•Pregnant mothers — Choline is required for proper neural tube closure, brain development and healthy vision.

•Athletes — During endurance exercise, such as running a marathon, choline levels are depleted more rapidly.

•Consumers of large amounts of alcohol — Excess alcohol consumption can increase your need for choline and raise your risk of deficiency.

•Postmenopausal women — Lower oestrogen concentrations in postmenopausal women increase the risk of organ dysfunction in response to a low-choline diet, so their requirements are higher than those of premenopausal women.

•Vegans — Choline supplementation may be important for vegans, as they have an elevated risk for deficiency since choline-rich foods such as eggs and meats are avoided.

Best Natural Sources of Choline

In the 1970s many physicians warned their patients to steer clear of eggs and egg yolks to minimise their intake of cholesterol and saturated fat. In reality, both are good for you, and eggs may be one of the most important available health foods. A single hard boiled egg may contain from 113 milligrams (mg) to 147 mg of choline.

This represents 25% of your daily requirement, making it one of the best sources in the diet. Only grass fed beef liver with 430 mg of choline per 100 grams per serving delivers more.

Other healthy sources include wild caught salmon, organic pastured chicken, shiitake mushrooms and krill oil. Some vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus offer 31 mg, 24 mg and 23.5 mg respectively per one-half cup serving.

One study in 2011 found 69 choline containing phospholipids in krill oil, including 60 phosphatidylcholine substances, making it one of the best sources of choline. While eggs have a fair amount of phosphatidylcholine, krill oil delivers higher amount per volume.

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