When it comes to both mental and physical health, research has continued to show that choline benefits our day-to-day functionality. Choline is a critical but often overlooked micronutrient that is responsible for numerous bodily functions. But you’ve never even heard of it? That’s ok, most people haven’t.
We are sharing everything you need to know about choline, from its numerous mental and physical benefits to ideal food sources and daily dosages.
Table of Contents
What is Choline?
Choline is a vitamin-like nutrient that is essential in the human diet. It is a micronutrient that benefits all nerve tissue.
Choline is critical for the methylation of DNA, RNA, and protein, a process that is needed for their biosynthesis. Think of DNA as the code behind an app. Choline acts as the switch that allows the commands of the app to function.
Choline is used in the body to form phosphatidylcholine which is a major constituent of every cell and mitochondrial membrane. The mitochondria are the power plants of cells and are responsible for regulating how fats and glucose are used.
The liver is very dependent upon adequate amounts of choline as well. Without it, liver cells die, fatty infiltration occurs, and other body tissues can be damaged.
It's a Nootropic
In layman’s terms, nootropics, also known as smart drugs and cognitive enhancers, are natural bioactive compounds or synthesized drugs that improve cognitive function -- particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, motivation, organization, and impulse control.
You may wonder "are nootropics good for you?" In short, the answer is: yes. Nootropics can benefit everyone in some way or another.
Are you someone who struggles to study for a big exam? Or possibly you're somebody who finds themselves hitting the proverbial wall when trying to complete the never-ending tasks you have on your plate at work.
Trust me, even when you accomplish these tasks, there is always something else. That’s where choline comes into play.
You have the opportunity to increase your brain power and tackle even the most daunting tasks with ease. This micronutrient helps bridge the gaps, empower your memory, and strengthen your cognitive retention.
It's been demonstrated in scientific studies time and again, it’s just up to you if you want to join the focus train and maximize your brain’s potential.
What Does Choline Do?
So what does choline actually do inside of your body?
Well, choline acts as the precursor to a neurotransmitter in our bodies called acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is an organic chemical used by the brain and nerves throughout the body to send signals to other cells. Our bodies utilize these signals for everything from short and long term memory, to reacting to a painful stimulus, to creating healthy nerve and muscle functions.
Choline benefits the central nervous system (CNS) as well. This micronutrient is crucial for nerve functioning, enhancing nerve signaling and stabilizing the membranes of our brain cells.
Increasing available choline allows our nervous system to strengthen its interconnectivity and pathways, ultimately increasing our body’s productivity.
Choline becomes a methyl donor when folate is low. It acts as a backup nutrient source to help ensure that bodily development and functions are normal. These nutrients are just as important for the fetus as they are for children’s growth and development.
What Are the Benefits of Choline?
Benefit# 1: Choline Supports a Healthy Mood
Let's be honest, we could all benefit from having less stress in our lives!
Stress and anxiety are a normal aspect of life for the vast majority of us. Events, like losing your job or getting divorced, can lead to all sorts of negative feelings. But what if I told you that there’s a supplement you could take to help better manage your state of mind?
Mood can be hard to generalize as each individual is different. Not only is your mental state influenced by your environment, but it's also affected by your brain chemistry as well.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains that different levels of choline in our bodies can have varying effects on our mood. The research showed that lower levels of choline were more strongly linked with feelings of uneasiness.
Studies have also found that adequate supplies of choline were associated with better stress management in pregnant women. Do you see the picture I’m trying to paint?
Although our bodies have the ability to produce choline, we do not typically produce a sufficient amount. Choline is a direct precursor to acetylcholine and low acetylcholine levels lead to low amounts of GABA levels in the brain -- GABA is widely known for its ability to regulate stress.
Benefit# 2: It Supports Brain Function, Memory, and Cognition
As we age, the function of our brain and the neural networks we’ve created tend to decline. Choline benefits our minds by keeping our cognitive abilities sharp. It's is an important component of the cellular membranes we create and improves our neural connectivity as the precursor to acetylcholine.
Why is this important?
Think of neural connections as a spider web. In a spider web, there are multiple ways we can get from point A to point B. We can think back to a specific memory better if we have multiple neural connections relating back to that memory.
Choline helps strengthen that web of neural connections, preserving those memories and strengthening those connections.
Memories are created through experiences and strengthened through repetition of that memory in your mind. This causes new connections between brain neurons.
Choline aids in ensuring that the connectivity of neurons is structurally sound. Hence memory is improved.
Every time a nerve fires, acetylcholine is released. This then has to be replenished. Without adequate acetylcholine in reserve, the neural transmission slows down.
Studies support the notion that lower levels of acetylcholine lead to cognitive decline, which is a nice medical way of saying your brain isn't working as well.
Cognitive decline comes in many forms such as losing your creativity and focus, not remembering to do certain tasks, and not being able to memorize as well.
Benefit #3: Choline Can Benefit Your Liver
Choline benefits the functionality of the liver as well.
One of the primary functions of the liver is to filter blood from the digestive tract before it can be sent to the rest of the body.
The liver is also notably important for detoxifying chemicals and metabolizing different drugs that enter the body. While doing so, the liver creates a substance called bile which helps our bodies carry away waste products and helps break down fats in our small intestines during digestion.
Choline deficiency can lead to poor liver health.
Without choline, we would not be able to properly transport necessary fats from the liver to cells in the rest of the body.
Have you ever heard of a liver detox or liver cleanse? Well, choline is your liver's natural cleanse that acts by making sure the liver does not accumulate excess fatty build-up.
Choline serves its purpose in the liver by aiding the transport of cholesterol and triglycerides, two fats that are needed throughout the body. Proper dosages of choline can support the body’s natural liver functions, preventing fat build-up.
Studies show that low levels of choline are associated with a higher risk of liver damage. The reason is that phosphatidylcholine synthesis is necessary for low-density lipoprotein secretion.
Benefit #4: It's Been Shown to Improve Sport Performance
Imagine if there was something you could drink or eat right before a marathon to knock minutes off your performance time… well, according to some scientists, the answer is choline.
The reason behind this is that again, choline is an essential part of our bodies' production of acetylcholine. Remember, acetylcholine transmits the signal from nerve to nerve. It also transmits the signal to the muscle causing it to contract.
Without acetylcholine powering nerve impulses, your leg muscles could not be "told” to perform the action of running in your race. Thinking broader, without acetylcholine, your legs would never find their way to the starting line.
When we consider sports performance, we’re not just talking about running a marathon. There are more components to athletic performance than just coordinated muscle firing.
Our body’s athletic ability relies heavily on mental energy, focus, and concentration. These are imperative for improving one’s physical abilities and athletic performance.
Choline benefits brain processing of on-field information by reducing the time needed for seeing and understanding what is happening; it also decreases reaction time. Athletes call this read and react and it's critical for those at an elite level.
We all know that it is important to rest and maintain proper sleep cycles for the optimal growth of our body’s physical performance.
Choline is shown to improve your energy levels, acts as a catalyst for ensuring proper sleep cycles, and aiding in recovery after enduring strenuous activity. It may also assist in the prevention of muscle fatigue, which will help to improve the quality of workouts.
Benefit #5: It May Help With Pain Management
Acute pain is… well, it’s a pain!
If it didn’t seem like there were already enough choline benefits, think again!
Choline activates specific receptors in our brains and spines that help to manage inflammation which is important for maintaining overall well-being. It's well known in the medical profession that nearly every pain syndrome is caused by inflammation and the inflammatory responses.
Experiments show that people with a high amount of dietary choline are better able to manage inflammation. Certain dosages have shown to target hypersensitivity and nociception, which is the nervous system’s response to pain.
When we ingest it in the form of foods or choline-rich supplements, most of the micronutrient is converted into betaine in our liver. Betaine is an incredibly important compound our bodies use to deal with inflammation.
Choline is noted for pain management even more so when working synergistically with B12 and folic acid.
Benefit #6: Choline Is Also Important During Pregnancy
Is choline dangerous? Should it be avoided during pregnancy? Quite the opposite!
Pregnant women are at a peak in terms of needing choline in their everyday diet. The nutrient is imperative for proper fetal development -- it aids in the proper growth of their brains, cell structures, and neural connections.
Studies have provided evidence that fetuses receiving the proper amount of choline have later shown improved cognitive abilities.
This takes us back to the building blocks of DNA and methylation. During pregnancy, a fetus is rapidly developing. They require the proper nutrients to do so and choline is one of them -- a very important one to say the least. It comes as no surprise that choline is naturally found in breast milk.
During the development of a child, their growth requires the intake of folate and vitamin B. Choline works synergistically with these nutrients in maintaining the proper levels of each.
Foods With Choline
Choline is a naturally occurring compound and an important micronutrient that can be found in a variety of food sources. Here are a few different types of food that are high in choline:
What Happen If You Have a Choline Deficiency?
Would it surprise you if I told you that less than 10% of the population is consuming adequate amounts of Choline? If you have a typical modern diet, you probably eat a lot of muscle meat like chicken breast, steak, and fish, but muscle meats are lower in choline than organ meat and eggs.
Had any liver or a big plate of cauliflower and spinach lately?
A deficiency in dietary choline could lead to poor acetylcholine production, which can result in impaired memory and learning, poor concentration, mood changes, and other physiological declines. These are similar symptoms and complaints that we see in the aging brain.
Knowing this, it almost seems silly to not take in the efficient amount of choline our bodies yearn for.
How much choline should your daily diety contain?
The amount of choline each person needs per day to maintain a healthy mind and body varies based upon a number of factors including age and gender. Below is a chart with the National Institute of Health's (NIH) choline recommendations based on age, gender, pregnancy, and lactation.
Choline is an essential micronutrient that your body requires to function normally. Without enough of it, you may not be able to perform at the best of your abilities both mentally and physically.
Assuring that you are consuming enough choline can benefit your health in multiple ways:
- Supports a healthy mood
- Enhances cognition and attention
- Maintains healthy liver function
- Improves sports performance
- Aids in pain management
- Supports healthy fetus development during pregnancy
So what’s stopping you? Hop on the train, introduce this supplement into your everyday diet, and turn your todays into better tomorrows!