Did you know that there’s a nutrient that is neither vitamin nor mineral? Choline acts sorta like an amino acid, and sorta like B-vitamins. It is a component of foods that our bodies need to thrive. Think of it in the category of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals.
But what does this essential nutrient contribute? And how much do we need? Where do we get it?
- Our bodies require choline to do the work of making cell membranes. Without sufficient choline, those cell membranes are defective.
- Liver function depends on choline. Choline deficiency is implicated in non-alcoholic fatty liver.
- Healthy brain development and thinking depend on choline. Deficiency can lead to short-term memory loss. In an interesting study of seniors, choline intake was clearly linked with cognitive function, and deficiency might be implicated in dementia.
- Muscle movement requires choline. Deficiency can lead to muscle damage.
- Our nervous system needs choline for a variety of tasks, including regulating heart rate and breathing. Deficiency leads to all sorts of problems, one of which is decreased reaction times.
- Choline helps us metabolize fats. Isn’t it interesting that a deficiency can cause cravings for fatty foods?
Even though our bodies make some choline, we don’t make enough – which means we have to eat it.
Maternal choline deficiency is implicated in neural tube defects in infants. The more scientists learn, the clearer it becomes that choline is essential.
In addition to those problems mentioned above, choline deficiency can disrupt the circadian rhythm and cause sleep problems, fatigue, mood swings, and irritability. Anyone with a hint of autoimmune disease and the accompanying fatigue would be wise to examine food choices.
Omnivores rejoice! Choline is mostly found in meat and eggs. Although there are some plant sources, it is nearly impossible for vegans to get adequate amounts of choline. Liver is the richest source. Three to four eggs per day will provide a full day’s supply of choline. Or mix things up and eat two eggs with breakfast and a serving of meat for supper. It’s not difficult to get enough choline if you’re eating a balanced diet, so I am appalled at estimates that 90% of people don’t get enough.
I feel significantly better when I am careful about my food choices. Sometimes we think about macronutrients (proteins:carbs:fats), but micronutrients are also important — including the one that everyone forgets about: choline.
For further reading: