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Choline is a nutrient that supports various bodily functions, including cellular growth and metabolism. The body makes some choline, but the majority comes from dietary sources.

In 1998, the Institute of Medicine officially recognized choline as an essential nutrient. However, some research suggests that most people do not get enough of it.

Continue reading this article to learn more about choline, including the recommended daily intake, its sources, and how it can benefit people's overall health.

a woman eating nuts as a source of cholineShare on Pinterest
Nuts and seeds are good sources of choline.

Choline is an essential nutrient that supports vital bodily functions and people's overall health. Although the body makes some choline, people need to incorporate choline-rich foods into their diet to get enough of it.

Choline supports numerous vital bodily functions, including:

  • Cell maintenance: The body uses choline to produce fats that make up cellular membranes.
  • DNA synthesis: Choline, along with other nutrients such as folate and vitamin B-12, can affect gene expression.
  • Metabolism: Choline helps metabolize fats.
  • Nervous system functioning: The body converts choline into a neurotransmitter that affects the nerves and plays a role in regulating automatic bodily functions, such as breathing and heart rate.

Choline exists as both water-soluble and fat-soluble molecules. The body transports and absorbs choline differently depending on its form.

Water-soluble choline molecules go to the liver, where the body converts them into a type of fat called lecithin.

Fat-soluble choline usually comes from dietary sources, so the body absorbs it in the gastrointestinal tract.

Choline supports several vital bodily functions and may offer a wide range of other health benefits, such as:

Improving memory and cognition

Choline is an essential nutrient for brain development.

In one observational study of 2,195 participants aged 70–74 years, those with higher choline levels had better cognitive functioning than participants with low choline levels.

Another observational study from 2019 found that inadequate levels of choline, vitamin C, and zinc were associated with poorer working memory in older men.

Protecting heart health

The authors of a 2018 study found an association between higher dietary intakes of choline and a lower risk of ischemic stroke.

The study looked at nearly 4,000 African American participants, with an average 9 year follow-up period.

Boosting metabolism

Some research has shown that choline plays a role in metabolizing fats.

The authors of a small 2014 study found that female athletes who took choline supplements had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and leptin levels than the control group. Leptin is a hormone that controls body fat.

Reducing the risk of pregnancy complications

Choline can affect fetal development and may influence pregnancy outcomes. In one 2013 study, for example, women in their third trimester of pregnancy received either 480 milligrams (mg) or 930 mg of choline per day.

Those who took higher doses had reduced markers of preeclampsia. Symptoms of preeclampsia include high blood pressure, swelling, and severe headaches.

Improving cystic fibrosis symptoms

One 2018 study found that choline supplementation improved lung function and reduced symptoms of fatty liver disease in 10 adult males with cystic fibrosis.

The precise amount of choline a person needs depends on the following factors:

  • pregnancy or lactation
  • biological sex
  • genetics
  • age

The following table lists the estimated adequate intakes (AI) for choline based on age, biological sex, and pregnancy and lactation status:

Daily AI for choline
AgeMaleFemalePregnancyLactation
0–1 year125–150 mg/day125–150 mg/day
1–3 years200 mg/day200 mg/day
4–8 years250 mg/day250 mg/day
9–13 years375 mg/day375 mg/day
14–19+ years550 mg/day400–425 mg/day450 mg/day550 mg/day

However, most people do not meet the recommended AIs for choline.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, males aged 20–59 consume an average of 406–421 mg of choline per day, while females in the same age group consume around 290–303 mg per day.

Pregnant women, those who are lactating, and people who have genetic alterations that increase the body's demand for choline may also have a higher risk of choline deficiency.

Although some people believe that vegetarians and vegans may be at risk of choline deficiencies, there is only mixed evidence to support this.

In fact, some of the foods with the highest choline content include soybeans, potatoes, and mushrooms. Eating a nutritious diet that focuses on whole foods should be enough to prevent deficiency.

Choline deficiency can contribute to the following health conditions:

Although choline deficiencies can lead to adverse health effects, too much choline can also cause problems, including:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provide the following upper intake levels for choline based on age:

  • children aged 1–8: 1 gram (g) per day
  • children aged 9–13: 2 g per day
  • teenagers aged 14–18: 3 g per day
  • adults aged 19 or older: 3.5 g per day

People can get choline from various dietary sources. Infants require lots of choline during the first few months of life, most of which they get from breast milk or fortified formula.

After infanthood, most people get choline from their diet.

Dietary sources of choline include:

Some multivitamins and dietary supplements, as well as prepackaged and fortified foods, may contain choline in the form of lecithin.

People can also find supplements that contain only choline. The exact amount of available choline varies, so it is vital that people read labels before taking any dietary supplements.

Choline supplements are available in pharmacies, health food stores, and online.

Healthcare professionals can test a person's choline levels by taking a blood sample and looking at how much choline is present.

However, the authors of one 2018 article state that different testing procedures can affect the choline concentration in blood samples.

For this reason, blood tests may not be a good indicator of whether or not a person is getting enough choline.

Choline is an essential nutrient that regulates vital bodily functions, such as forming cell membranes and aiding communication between neurons.

The body does not produce enough choline on its own, so people need to get it from food sources, such as meat, eggs, and vegetables.

Current scientific studies suggest that choline may improve memory and cognition and reduce the risk of ischemic stroke.

Choline supports brain development and growth in newborn babies. Research also suggests that choline may reduce the risk of preeclampsia and congenital irregularities.

Though the recommended intake for choline is relatively low (125–550 mg per day), most people do not get enough.

Choline deficiency can cause muscle and liver disease and contribute to cardiovascular disease, dementia, and neural tube irregularities in infants.