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Choline can be made in the body through a process that requires the amino acid methionine, vitamins B12 and B6, folate, and betaine (the oxidized form of choline), but we usually get most of the choline we need from food. Egg yolks, soybeans, and organ meats like beef liver are rich sources (mainly in the form of lecithin). Fish, chicken, wheat germ, butter, and some vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains also contain lecithin, and lecithin is widely used as a food additive.
Despite the body’s ability to produce some choline, a choline-deficient diet has been shown to have detrimental effects on health. Fatty liver disease is a major consequence of choline deficiency, and early research suggests that low choline intake during pregnancy increases the risk of neural tube defects.
On balance, the evidence shows that getting enough choline is necessary for good health, and the value of supplemental choline for specific health conditions deserves further exploration.
The report reviewed the evidence supporting three popular health claims for choline and lecithin supplements:
Other evidence shows that choline supplements may help prevent gallstones and reduce liver damage in people exposed to harmful chemicals, excessive alcohol, and certain viruses. “Choline is a dietary and cellular component that plays important roles in the metabolism and normal functioning of cells,” the report states. “There is an increasing body of evidence that may eventually lead to the establishment of choline as an essential nutrient in humans.”
(J Am Diet Assoc 2010;110:1162–5)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.