Choline is an essential nutrient vital to brain health. Though it was only added to the list of dietary requirements by the NationalAcademy of Science (NAS) in 1998, it is not recognized as a member of the B-complex but is chemically related to the B-complex of vitamins. Memory issues, difficulty concentrating or remembering and headache or brain fog can be signs of choline deficiency which could affect up to 90% of the population.
Shrimp, eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, beef and collards, brussel sprouts, broccoli and some other dark green vegetables are all foods high in dietary choline. Fish oil and lecithin can be good choices for supplementing your choline intake.
Importance of choline to the brain and body
Choline is one of the primary constituents of phosphatidylcholine of our brain’s grey matter. The brain, being the literal nerve center of the body uses a lot of energy. This coupled with the fact that choline is water soluble as opposed to fat soluble means it can’t be stored up in the fat cells like certain other nutrients. In other words, we can’t build up a supply of choline to store away for a rainy day, but must rather have a constant influx of the lipidinous relative of the B vitamins, not only as an essential “brain food” but also as a precursor to Acetylcholine, a vital neurotransmitter involved in memory formation, storage and recall and movement processes.
Acetylcholine is formed in the body via a chemical reaction involving choline and acetic acid, which is basically undiluted vinegar. Remember that next time you’re having fish and chips with malt vinegar! Choline is also ancillary to bio-chemical processes like methylation which require folate, B6 and B12 as well and since phosphatidylcholine is one of the most widespread compounds within all living cells it’s plentiful in nature.
Supplemental choline sources
The FDA recommends at least 425mg of choline intake per day. For those who aren’t getting enough choline in their diet and considering the incredible number of people who suffer from some degree of choline deficiency, some supplementation beyond dietary intake of choline may be helpful. Lecithin derived from soy is a popular supplemental source of choline. Lecithin is also found in eggs which is responsible for their high choline content.
Choline citrate and choline bitartrate are two inexpensive choline supplements that can increase the body’s available supply of choline but are not considered cognitive enhancing themselves. Higher quality choline sources like CDP choline also known as citicoline and Alpha GPC (Alpha glycerophosphocholine) are also available that not only increase the body and brain’s stores of choline but can also have a cognitive enhancing and energizing effect themselves. Citicoline in addition to being a choline source and acetylcholine precursor is also a dopamine precursor. Alpha GPC, which is derived and purified from soy lecithin, is a more highly available choline source that can more easily cross the blood-brain-barrier providing for greater bio-availability.
If you’re planning on adding any cholinergics like the classic nootropic piracetam or any of the related compounds in the racetam family, be sure to get plenty of choline in your diet. Upmodulation (increased production) of acetylcholine without sufficient choline intake can result in choline deficiency side effects including brain fog, headache and forgetfulness which are, of course, counter to what any aspiring cognitive enhancer is looking towards.
Choline supplementation safety considerations
Choline is considered not only safe for children and adults but is an essential nutrient the body needs. As with anything however, dosing too high can have unwanted side effects which can include gastric issues, diarrhea, sweating and fishy body odor (choline itself has a strong fishy smell). Choline is even considered safe for pregnant and nursing women and some research shows that a healthy amount of choline in the diet during pregnancy resulted in more intelligent offspring. There is a possibility that a sudden sharp increase in choline intake may be linked to rectal cancer so as always observe minimum effective dosing practices and take all supplements only as directed after consulting with a physician.