Monday, May 16, 2011

How Much Choline Do We Need?

Choline has become a popular topic in nutrition recently with many supplement companies and health experts promoting it. But what is choline and why do we need it?

Picture of yogurt

Choline has been grouped together with the B vitamins. It is considered a conditional essential nutrient because while the body can synthesize choline from the amino acid methionine, without food sources of choline the body cannot make enough to meet its needs. Fortunately, choline is found in many foods either as free choline or more commonly as part of lecithin. Good sources of choline are eggs, seafood, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, milk, yogurt and nuts.

Choline is part of every cell in our bodies. It promotes brain health, nervous system function and is important in fetal development of the brain and spinal chord. Choline is unique in that it has a water soluble end and a fat soluble end, making it a great emulsifier. Many food companies use lecithin, which has choline, to blend such products as mayonnaise, dressings, sauces and candy. Because of this, choline supplements are generally not necessary.

Choline deficiencies are very rare, but result in the development of a fatty liver and eventual liver damage. Adequate intake set by the Food and Drug Administration is 425 mg a day for adult women and 550 mg a day for men. The upper limit for choline is 3,500 mg a day. Symptoms of choline toxicity are body odor, sweating, excessive salivating, reduced growth rate and low blood pressure. Just as with a choline deficiency, too much over time will cause liver damage.

So before you buy in to this recent nutrition trend, just know that you are most likely getting enough choline in your diet to help your body stay healthy. Visit The World’s Healthiest Foods to find out more about choline.

— Kelly Cantrell, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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