Tuesday 11 April 2023

Choline: An essential nutrient for brain and heart health

 Choline is an important nutrient for regulating vital bodily functions. Although technically not a vitamin or a mineral, it is generally considered a B vitamin due to the many functional similarities it shares with B complex vitamins.

According to a study published in the journal Nutritional and Functional Foods for Healthy Aging, choline and B vitamins share a key role in multiple metabolic pathways involved in the nervous system’s structural and functional integrity. In particular, these nutrients are required for optimizing brain energy metabolism, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, regulating the transfer of information between brain neurons and preventing vascular damage.

Choline also offers significant benefits for the heart. Studies show that choline is a cardioprotective nutrient that can help cardiac muscle cells withstand oxidative stress and ischemic injury. Choline has also been found to protect against many heart conditions, such as myocardial ischemia (reduced blood flow), cardiac fibrosis (scarring of cardiac muscle) and cardiac hypertrophy (thickening of heart muscle).

Everything you need to know about choline

Despite being naturally produced in the liver (mostly as phosphatidylcholine), choline is considered an essential nutrient. You need to get sufficient amounts of choline from your daily diet because the amount your liver synthesizes is not enough to fulfill your body’s needs.

The recommended daily intake of choline for adult men and women is 550 milligrams (mg) and 425 mg, respectively, while males and females aged 14 to 18 need 550 mg and 400 mg of choline per day, respectively. Girls and boys aged nine to 13 need to get 375 mg of choline from their diet daily.

The best dietary sources of choline for meat eaters are whole eggs, organ meats (liver and kidneys), caviar, fish (salmon, tuna and cod), beef, chicken and turkey. Vegetarians and vegans can get their daily dose of choline from plant-based foods like shiitake mushroom, soybeans, wheat germ, almonds, lima beans, cruciferous vegetables, red potatoes, kidney beans and quinoa.

Unlike other B vitamins, which are purely water-soluble, choline exists either as a water-soluble or fat-soluble organic compound. Dietary choline comes from the fat-soluble phospholipids, phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin, and the water-soluble compounds, phosphocholine, glycerolphosphocholine and free choline. Phospholipids are the main components of cell membranes, while phosphocholine and glycerolphosphocholine are the two major forms of choline storage in cells.

Water-soluble choline is absorbed in the small intestine and eventually stored in the liver, where it undergoes chemical processing before being distributed throughout the body to make cell membranes. Meanwhile, fat-soluble choline is absorbed intact and incorporated into chylomicrons (ultra low-density lipoproteins) before being secreted into circulation. These chylomicrons are then distributed to tissues and organs, including the brain and placenta.

Choline is important for brain function and heart health

Aside from supplying raw materials for your cell membranes, choline supports many other vital bodily functions, including DNA synthesis, fat metabolism and nervous and cardiovascular system functioning. In the nervous system, choline is required for the production of acetylcholine, an important brain chemical for memory, mood and muscle control. Acetylcholine is involved not only in the neural control of breathing but also in the regulation of the minute-to-minute changes in your heart rate.

As a precursor to acetylcholine, choline has a huge impact on cognitive function. A study by researchers from the University of New Mexico found that inadequate intake of certain nutrients, including choline, has a negative effect on the memory performance of older adults. This finding is corroborated by a recent study published in the journal Behavioral Neurology, which looked at the neuroprotective effects of choline as well as how much choline adults aged 60 and above need to maintain healthy cognitive functions.  

After analyzing data from 2,393 elderly participants of the 2011-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers found that older adults with a daily choline intake of 187 to 399.50 mg performed better on cognitive tests than those with lower intakes. In fact, older adults with adequate choline intakes had a 50 percent reduced risk of suffering from poor cognitive performance. The study highlights the importance of choline for proper brain functioning, particularly for learning, verbal fluency, attention, processing speed and working memory.

In addition to neuroprotective effects, choline offers cardioprotective benefits. An animal study published in the journal Scientific Reports reported that choline has anti-inflammatory properties that help protect blood vessels from inflammatory damage. This has the added benefit of lowering blood pressure and heart rate. A cohort study with over a decade of follow-up also found that higher intake of free choline is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, contradicting previous reports that linked choline intake with risk factors for the disease.

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