Choline, first discovered in 1862 by chemist Adolph Strecker, is an essential water-soluble nutrient. It is required for basic cellular structure, metabolism and nutrient transport.
Choline is naturally synthesized in the liver, however, synthesized amounts are very small; for this reason, a significant amount must be consumed through diet. Deficiencies in choline can lead to a number of serious issues, such as an increased risk of dementia, cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders and liver diseases.
The Benefits of Choline
Choline, besides reducing risk of disease, can also greatly improve cognitive performance, enhance focus, concentration, creativity and problem solving abilities. Choline is in fact the precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine – one the most important neurotransmitters in the brain.
This specific neurotransmitter is “excitatory”; this means that it increases neuron activity and helps us feel more alert and awake, boosting memory, concentration and creativity. Fortunately, choline occurs in natural sources and is easily obtainable through diet.
Eggs are an incredible source of choline; in fact, one egg yolk contains around 120 mg of choline. Pastured eggs should be consumed often, as they are superior nutrients. Egg yolks can be added into scrambled eggs or raw in a superfood smoothie.
Yogurt, fresh milk and other unpasteurized dairy products are good sources of choline. Yogurt, in particular, provides good bacteria cultures which fortify the immune system, help in the digestive process and produce other key neurotransmitters.
Vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage contain around 65 mg of choline per cup when cooked. However, nutrients are best preserved when these foods are consumed raw or lightly steamed.
Natural Foods vs. Supplements
A great number of choline supplements are available today, as is the case with many nutrients. However, the choline contained in pills and capsules is usually derived from soy lecithin – a less than ideal source of choline, especially considering that 90% of soy is genetically modified.
Furthermore, lecithin is quite often extracted chemically by using harsh solvents, such as hexane. For these reasons, it is best to obtain choline from pure whole foods. The minimum amount for men is 550 mg daily, whereas for women, it’s 425 mg per day. These values are modest, and yet many people worldwide are not consuming the recommended dosage. This is particularly worrying in the case of pregnant and nursing women, which need higher doses of choline to avoid having children with neural tube defects.
Consuming choline rich foods is a simple way to boost choline intake, as they can easily be incorporated into the diet, and are healthier than consuming choline supplements derived from soy.