What Is Choline - Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage & More [Complete Guide]

Choline is a newly identified and required nutrient.


Choline was recognised as a required nutrient by the Institute of Medicine in 1998.


Some consider it a nootropic, a substance that may improve cognitive function, such as memory, creativity, motivation, and other brain functions.


Your body does make choline, but you also need to obtain it from your diet to avoid deficiency.


Many people do not obtain the recommended daily intake for choline. (Source)


Below is the list of topics this article covers.



Click to skip to the topics above or continue to scroll down.


What Is Choline

Choline is an organic, water-soluble compound.


Sometimes it is grouped with the vitamin Bs due to its similarities to them.


However, it is not a vitamin or a mineral.


Choline is considered an essential nutrient. (Source)


Meaning choline is needed for many bodily functions.


Your liver can produce choline, but you must obtain most of it from your diet.


Choline affects several critical biological functions.


It affects the following:

  • Liver function.

  • Healthy brain development.

  • Muscle movement.

  • Nervous system.

  • Metabolism.


Therefore, for optimal health, adequate levels of choline are needed. (Source)


Summary:

Choline is considered essential and is required for many body function. Because of this, you should consume adequate amounts of choline.

Choline is an organic, water-soluble compound with the formula of C5H14NO

Image Credit: NutritionalInsight

What Is Cholines Function

Choline plays an essential part in many processes in your body.


It is needed to produce a compound called acetylcholine, an essential neurotransmitter involved in memory, cognition, mood, muscle control, and many other brain and nervous system related functions.


Cholines Functions:

  • Cell Messaging: Choline is required in the production of compounds that function as cell messengers.

  • Cell Structure: Choline is needed to maintain cell membranes' structural integrity due to its role in making essential fats. (Source)

  • DNA Synthesis: Choline is involved in a process that is crucial for DNA synthesis.

  • Nervous System: Choline is required to make a compound called acetylcholine; this is an important neurotransmitter involved in many functions including memory, cognitive function, muscle movement, regulating heartbeat and other essential bodily functions.

  • Fat Transport & Metabolism: Choline is essential for producing a substance that removes cholesterol from the liver. Low levels of choline can result in cholesterol and fat buildup within the liver. (Source, Source)

Choline is required for cell messaging and structure, DNA synthesis and nervous system health.

Summary:

The importance and function of choline are vast; it is involved in many different processes, such as cell messaging, cell structure, DNA synthesis, nervous system, and fat transport and metabolism.

Choline Benefits

Choline has multiple benefits.


Mostly from its ability to increase acetylcholine and serve a role in many vital functions within the body.


A majority of its benefits are brain-related.


Click to skip to the benefits below or continue to scroll down.


Choline Benefits:

Choline has benefits for the brain, memory and mood. It also benefits the heart.

Memory & Cognition

Choline is needed for multiple functions that effect the brain.


Choline is required to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, memory and cognition. (Source)


It's also needed to synthesise DNA, which is essential for brain function and development. (Source)


Because of this, a higher intake of choline is correlated with improvements in brain function.


Observational studies associate choline intake and choline blood levels to improved brain function, such as better memory and cognition. (Source, Source)


One study noted that supplementation of 1,000mg choline per day led to an enhancement in short-term and long-term verbal memory in adults aged 50-85 years old who had poor memory. (Source)


Another study noted that those who supplemented with phosphatidylcholine and had early-stage Alzheimer's disease had moderately improved memory. (Source)


Other studies on healthy people, and also those with dementia, observed no effects on memory. (Source, Source, Source)


Summary:

Choline plays a vital role in brain function, including cognition, memory, motor control and processing. It may also help reduce symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. However, it is unclear if choline improves memory in healthy people.


Choline plays a vital role in memory.

Brain Development

Animal studies propose that supplementing with choline during pregnancy may improve fetal brain development. (Source, Source)


Though, there needs to be more research in humans on this matter.


One study on 1,200+ pregnant women discovered that a higher choline intake during the second trimester correlated with better visual memory scores in children at age 7. (Source)


However, the same study discovered that choline intake had no observed connections to cognitive performance in their children at three years old. (Source)


Another study in around 100 pregnant women, who took 750mg of choline per day from 18 weeks to three months after pregnancy, experienced no brain function improvement or memory improvement. (Source)


Summary:

The research is unclear, though there may be improved brain function and development when choline is supplemented.


Choline may play a role in brain development.

Anxiety & Depression

Some evidence proposes that choline may play a part in treating some mental health complications.


One observational study associated lower blood choline levels with a higher risk of anxiety. (Source)


However, this study also noted no correlation of low choline levels to depression.


Choline levels are also an indication for certain mood disorders.


Choline supplementation is also used as a treatment for bipolar disorder. (Source)


Another study discovered that choline supplementation improved mania symptoms in people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. (Source)


However, there is still not enough research on this matter.


Summary:

Choline may help treat anxiety and other mental diseases. However, the evidence is unclear; more research is needed.


Choline may help treat anxiety and depression.

Heart Health

It seems as though a higher daily intake of choline is correlated with a reduced risk of heart disease. (Source)


Choline helps to convert the amino acid homocysteine to methionine.


Because of this, a deficiency of choline can result in an increase of homocysteine in the blood.


Raised homocysteine levels in the blood is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. (Source)


However, the evidence is unclear on this matter.


Although choline supplementation may lower blood levels of homocysteine, the association of choline intake and the risk of heart disease is not fully clear. (Source, Source, Source, Source)


Summary:

Choline has a lowering effect on homocysteine blood levels, which may reduce the risk of heart disease. However, the evidence on this matter is unclear.


Choline may have a positive effect on heart health.

Other Effects Of Choline

Choline also has some other effects within the body.


It can affect the development of certain other diseases.


However, the research on this is not fully detailed.


Choline Effects:


Click on the topics above or scroll down.

Choline & Cancer

Some research indicates that women who consume a lot of choline in their diet may have a lower risk of developing breast cancer. (Source, Source, Source)


One study in 1,500+ women found that those with a diet high in choline were around ~24% less likely to develop breast cancer. (Source)


However, the evidence is still unclear on this matter.


Other studies found no connection with cancer, though studies in the test-tube propose that a choline deficiency may increase liver cancer risk. (Source, Source, Source)


Higher choline intakes may also be associated with increased prostate cancer risk in men and increased risk of colon cancer in women. (Source, Source)


Summary:

Choline supplementation may decrease the risk of breast cancer and liver cancer. It may also increase the risk of certain cancers, such as colon and prostate cancer.


Choline has mixed effects on cancer.

Choline & Liver Disease

Choline deficiency may contribute to liver damage and disease.


One study in 660+ people with non-alcoholic liver disease observed that a lower choline intake was correlated with greater disease severity. (Source)


Another study in around ~56,000 people found that women with the highest choline intake had a ~28% lower risk of liver disease than those with the most inadequate choline intakes. (Source)


This study also revealed no connection of choline to liver disease in men or overweight women. (Source)


Summary:

The research is not fully clear, but it seems as though choline supplementation may reduce the risk of liver disease in some people.


Choline may reduce the risk of liver disease.

Choline & Neural Tube Defects

Choline supplementation may reduce the risk of neural tube defects in babies.


One study observed that pregnant women with a low choline intake were over twice as likely to have a baby with neural tube defects. (Source)


Another study found that a higher intake of choline in women around the time of conception had around a ~51% lower risk of neural tube defects than women with a low choline intake. (Source)


Interestingly, other studies didn't acknowledge any connection between the mother's daily choline intake and risk of neural tube defects. (Source, Source)


Summary:

There is mixed evidence about choline and its effect on neural tube defects. However, if there is any connection between choline intake and neural tube defects, it seems to reduce the risk of defects. More research is needed on this matter.

Types Of Choline

Choline comes in various forms and types.


Choline is found naturally within the diet and can also be taken in supplement form.


The types of choline are listed below.


Types Of Choline:


Click the types of choline above or continue scrolling down.


Choline Bitartrate

Choline bitartrate is a commonly used form of choline and is used in many dietary supplements.


Choline bitartrate can be produced in the liver.


It is also found in various foods such as meat, fish, nuts, beans, vegetables, and eggs.


Many nootropic supplement companies opt for using choline bitartrate as their source of choline, which compromises quality for cost.


Choline bitartrate contains ~41% choline by weight, a decent density compared to other choline sources.


However, choline bitartrate has one significant problem - it doesn't cross the blood-brain barrier effectively.


Choline bitartrate does not work very well for increasing brain levels of choline.


Because of this, it may not be the right choice for cognition benefits.


Read more about Choline Bitartrate dosage.

Phosphatidylcholine

Phosphatidylcholine is a chemical contained in eggs, soybeans, mustard, sunflower, and other foods.


It is also found naturally in every cell within the body.


Phosphatidylcholine is a source of choline.


Read more about Phosphatidylcholine dosage.

Alpha GPC

L-Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine (Alpha GPC) is a natural choline compound found in the brain.


It is an acetylcholine precursor which has been studied for its potential to treat Alzheimer's disease and other brain disorders.


By weight, alpha GPC is around ~40% choline, providing around 40mg pure choline per 100mg of alpha-GPC.


Alpha GPC almost equates choline bitartrate in terms of density but has a significant advantage over other choline sources.


It can cross the blood-brain barrier.


Alpha-GPC is a naturally occurring compound, found naturally within red meats and organs.


However, to achieve cognition-enhancing effects via red meat, you'll need to eat a lot of it.


Therefore, it's better to supplement with Alpha GPC in powder or capsule form.


Read more about Alpha-GPC dosage.

CDP Choline (Citicoline)

Citicoline is also known as Cytidine Diphosphate-Choline or Cytidine 5-Diphosphocholine.


It is an intermediate compound in the production of phosphatidylcholine from choline.


Citicoline is more than just a choline source.


It doubles as a cytidine supplier, providing the precursor to a compound called uridine.


By weight, citicoline carries ~18% choline, not as high density as the other choline types.


Cytidine is the precursor to uridine; a critical factor in synaptic strength and neural connectivity.


While citicoline possesses less choline by weight than Alpha-GPC, the combination of choline and cytidine has many other benefits, especially with brain and cognition enhancement.


Therefore, when supplementing with CDP choline, you may want to take another choline source alongside, such as Alpha-GPC.


Read more about CDP-Choline dosage.

Best Type Of Choline

Each type of choline has its advantages and disadvantages.


Choline bitartrate and the other standard choline sources are not as effective as Alpha-GPC or Citicoline.


Alpha-GPC is an excellent overall source of choline; it crosses the blood-brain barrier and has proven beneficial effects on cognition and memory.


CDP Choline (Citicoline) is another excellent choline source; it also doubles as a cytidine supplier, providing other nootropic benefits beyond just those of choline.


However, CDP choline does not provide a substantial dosage of choline per serving.


Therefore, the combination of Alpha-GPC and CDP Choline (Citicoline) is an excellent choline source choice.

Natural Sources Of Choline

Natural sources of choline are generally phosphatidylcholine from lecithin, a type of fat found in animal and plant tissue.


Below is a list of food sources of choline.


Sources Of Choline:

  • Beef Liver: 1 slice (2.4oz or 68g) contains ~290mg.

  • Chicken Liver: 1 slice (2.4oz or 68g) contains ~222mg.

  • Eggs: 1 large hard-boiled egg contains ~113mg.

  • Fresh Cod: 3oz (85g) contain ~248mg.

  • Salmon: A 3.9oz (110g) fillet contains ~63mg.

  • Cauliflower: A 1/2 cup (118ml) contains ~24mg.

  • Broccoli: A 1/2 cup (118ml) contains ~31mg.

  • Soybean Oil: 1 tablespoon (15ml) contains ~47mg.

Source: NutritionData

One egg contains around 20-25% of your daily requirement; two large eggs provide nearly half of your required daily intake. (Source)


A single 3oz (85g) serving of beef kidney or liver also contains all of a woman's daily requirement and most of a man's required daily intake. (Source)

Choline Deficiency

A choline deficiency can cause some adverse health effects, especially for the liver.


Choline Deficiency Can Cause:

  • Liver Damage.

  • Muscle Damage.

  • Feeling Anxious & Restless.

  • Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).

One study on postmenopausal women noted that ~73% developed liver or muscle damage while on a choline-deficient diet. (Source)


Another study in 57 adults discovered that ~77% of men, ~44% of premenopausal women and ~80% of postmenopausal women sustained liver and muscle damage after changing to a diet low in choline. (Source)


Once choline was reintroduced into their diet, these symptoms disappeared.


During pregnancy, choline is even more important; a low daily intake of choline may raise the risk of neural tube defects.


A higher intake of choline around the time of conception was correlated with a lower risk of neural tube defects. (Source)


Also, a low intake of choline may raise the risk of other pregnancy complications, such as the following. (Source)

  • Premature Birth

  • Preeclampsia

  • Low Birth Weight


Although most peoples dietary choline intake is low, choline deficiency is rare.


Summary:

Choline deficiency is associated with some adverse effects, including liver and muscle damage. It is essential to consume enough dietary choline while pregnant to reduce the risk of congenital disabilities.

Those At-Risk Of Choline Deficiency

Choline deficiency is rare; however, some people are at more risk. (Source)


Those at risk are those whose body uses more choline, such as athletes and pregnant women.


Those At Risk:

  • Athletes: Athletes may encounter lower levels of choline, especially during prolonged sessions such as marathons. However, it is not clear if supplementing with choline improves exercise performance. (Source, Source)

  • Pregnant Women: More choline is required during pregnancy, most likely because the unborn baby needs choline for growth. (Source)

  • Postmenopausal Women: Estrogen levels usually decline in postmenopausal women. Since estrogen is essential for choline production, these women may be at a greater risk of choline deficiency. (Source, Source)

  • High Alcohol Intake: Alcohol consumption can increase choline demands and therefore, can your risk of choline deficiency. (Source, Source)

Summary:

Those at risk of choline deficiency include those whose bodies use more choline, such as athletes and pregnant women. Postmenopausal women produce less choline and, therefore, maybe at a greater risk. Alcohol consumption can also increase the risk of choline deficiency.

Daily Intake Of Choline

Adequate daily intake of choline varies for different people.


Below is the adequate general intake of choline for adults.


Adequate Intake Of Choline (Adults):

  • ~550mg per day for males.

  • ~425mg per day for females.

  • ~450mg per day for pregnant females.

  • ~550mg per day for lactating women.


Daily upper intake levels (highest intake level that is likely to pose no or minimal risk of adverse effects) is around 3.5g (3,500mg) for adults.


Below is the adequate general intake of choline for children.


Adequate Intake Of Choline (Children):

  • ~125mg per day for infants less than 6 months.

  • ~150mg per day for infants 7-12 months.

  • ~200mg per day for children 1-3 years.

  • ~250mg per day for children 4-8 years.

  • ~375mg per day for children 9-13 years.


Daily upper intake levels (highest intake level that is likely to pose no or minimal risk of adverse effects) is around 1g (1,000mg) daily for children 1-8 years, 2g (2,000mg) for children 9-13 years, and 3g (3,000mg) for children 14-18 years.


Source: WebMD

Choline Dosage

The dosage of choline varies between the different types of choline.



The best types of choline are alpha-GPC and CDP-choline.


Alpha-GPC has a typical dosage of ~600-1,200mg.


CDP-choline has a typical dosage of ~500-1,000mg.


Click on the above types of choline sources to see more about their specific dosage recommendations.

Choline Bitartrate Dosage

Typical dosages of choline bitartrate are around ~500mg to ~3,000mg per day.


However, choline bitartrate doesn't readily cross the blood-brain barrier; therefore, it is not useful to take excess choline in this form.


  • For General Health: ~500-1,000mg per day


Read more about choline bitartrate.

Phosphatidylcholine Dosage

There's no standardised dosage for phosphatidylcholine.


However, a typical dosage is around ~840mg twice per day.


Consult with your doctor for dosage recommendations.


  • Typical Dosage: ~840mg 2x per day


Read more about phosphatidylcholine.

Alpha-GPC Dosage

According to typical label doses, a standard dosage of alpha-GPC is around ~300-600mg.


~600mg is the dosage used in the two studies noting an increase in growth hormone; therefore, it is likely an adequate dosage for athletes to take.


~1,200mg daily, split into three doses of ~400mg, was used in almost all studies to reduce cognitive decline symptoms.


It's not clear how, or if, lower dosages of alpha-GPC would benefit cognition, but ~1,200mg appears to have benefits.


Rodent studies advise that the effects of alpha-GPC peak at around ~300-600mg/kg, an approximated equivalent human dose of ~48-96 mg/kg.


  • For Athletes (Increased Growth Hormone): ~600mg per day

  • For Reducing Symptoms Of Cognitive Decline: ~1,200mg (split into 3x ~400mg) per day


Read more about Alpha-GPC.

CDP-Choline (Citicoline) Dosage

Typical dosing of CDP-choline is to take ~500-2,000mg split into two doses usually divided by around 8-12 hours, and sometimes a single dosage is taken.


One single dosage of ~4,000mg doesn't appear to affect blood levels any differently than a ~2,000mg dosage, meaning a high dosage is unnecessary.


Some CDP-choline properties, such as improving bioenergetics or improving attention, appear to react better to a lower dosage.


Other CDP-choline properties such as its appetite-suppressing effects are the opposite, the higher the dosage, the higher the impact.


Therefore the ideal dosage of CDP-choline depends on the goal.


  • For Cognitive Improvements: ~500-1000mg per day

  • For Appetite Suppression: ~1000-2000mg per day


Read more about CDP-Choline (Citicoline).

Choline Side Effects, Toxicity & interactions

Consuming too much of any form of choline has been connected with some adverse effects and potentially serious side effects.


Choline Side Effects:

  • A drop in blood pressure.

  • Sweating.

  • Fishy body odour.

  • Diarrhoea.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.


Source: NIH


Choline Toxicity & Interactions

The daily upper limit for adults is around ~3,500mg per day.


~3,500mg of choline is the highest daily intake that is unlikely to cause any harm.


It's doubtful that someone could consume this much choline from natural food sources alone.


To consume this much choline, it would need to be supplemented.


Choline is not known to interact with any medications.


Though we recommend you to be careful mixing any nootropic with other medications affecting the brain.


Choline seems to be safe to take, especially when consumed naturally within foods.


Summary:

Too much choline consumption can lead to some adverse side effects. It's doubtful that you could ingest enough choline to cause adverse effects from food sources alone. Choline seems to be safe to take, especially when consumed naturally within foods.

Summary Of Choline

Choline can be an effective nootropic and general health booster.


Choline Can Help:

  • Boost Cognition

  • Improve Memory

  • Improve Heart Health

  • Prevent Liver & Muscle Damage

  • Prevent Some Forms Of Brain Diseases


It comes in various forms, some more effective than others.


The most effective types of choline seem to be CDP-choline and alpha-GPC.


Choline bitartrate and other forms seem to be much less effective.


Overall, choline seems to be a good supplement for brain and general health benefits.


However, more research is needed.

Frequently Asked Questions


Q: What is choline good for?

A: The brain and nervous system require choline in order to regulate mood, memory, muscle control, and other vital cognitive functions. Choline is also important for forming the membranes that surround the body's cells.


Q: Which foods are high in choline?

A: Lots of fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products contain decent amounts of choline. Fish, meat, eggs, beans and nuts are also good sources of natural choline.


Q: What are the symptoms of choline deficiency?

A: Liver damage, muscle damage, feeling anxious and restless and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are all the result of a choline deficiency.


Q: Is it safe to take choline?

A: Choline seems to be safe to take, especially when consumed naturally within foods.

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