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Choline Research and Food Sources

January 8, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Certain foods tend to get a bad rap across the board. These so called “dietary offenders” generally fall into two camps: foods that are rich in cholesterol and saturated fat, and desserts, drinks or snacks that are abundant in simple carbohydrates. I can’t think of a good argument for sugar laden treats, but I do believe that many foods containing cholesterol and saturated fat are, in fact, healthy. This point of view is often shared by nutritionists and physicians who have adopted a low-carbohydrate philosophy. However, the vast majority of conventional doctors and nutrition advisors disagree. One of the reasons why I personally think that foods such as beef, eggs and pork can be healthful additions to the average diet is because they’re loaded with an essential nutrient known as choline.

The January 2010 edition of the FASEB Journal provides the latest evidence that choline, a member of the B-vitamin family, is vital in promoting the formation of the memory center of the brain (the hippocampus). Scientists from the University of North Carolina fed two groups of pregnant mice a choline enriched diet or a choline deficient diet during the time frame when fetal hippocampi growth is known to occur. The diet with added choline affected specific genes that support the creation and subsequent growth of neuronal cells in the hippocampus. The benefits that occur during the developmental stages of life may even extend into adulthood. A recent experiment presented in the journal Brain Research determined that rats provided with choline during their growth stage exhibited positive “changes in exploratory behaviors over the lifespan” and that choline “preserves some features of hippocampal plasticity that can be seen at 2 years of age”. 2 years in the life of a rat is the equivalent of approximately 60 years for a human being. (1,2,3,4)

There are other reasons why pregnant women should keep an eye on the choline content of their diets. A September 2009 study conducted at Stanford University discovered that low choline levels were associated with a greater risk for neural tube defects (NTD). On the opposite end of the spectrum, a higher intake of choline was found to have a preventive effects against NTDs. A greater intake of dietary or supplemental choline may also help protect against certain manifestations of alcohol induced birth trauma, such as behavioral problems, “delays in eye opening”, low birth and brain weight and tooth formation. It’s important to note that choline doesn’t lessen the alcohol content in the system, but instead appears to offset some of the damage caused by alcohol consumption – in an animal model. Clearly this isn’t a prescription to drink while pregnant. But this may be a valuable preventive tool in cases where drinking is likely to occur. (5,6)

Choline may also play an important role in a disease that profoundly affects the female population – breast cancer. A November 2009 investigation from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine examined the link between choline intake and breast cancer risk and mortality. 1,508 women with breast cancer were analyzed in this trial. Several determinations were made based on the careful examination of this group known as the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project.

  • Higher levels of serum choline were associated with a reduction in breast cancer risk.
  • Those with higher concentrations of betaine, choline and phosphocholine (choline byproducts) demonstrated lower rates of breast cancer and overall mortality rates.
  • Choline related genetic changes were correlated with reduced “breast cancer-specific mortality”.

The authors of the research conclude their research in rather direct terms: “Our study supports the important roles of choline and betaine in breast carcinogenesis. It suggests that high intake of these nutrients may be a promising strategy to prevent the development of breast cancer and to reduce its mortality”. This promising note is strengthened by other recent trials that suggest that choline and other methyl-donors (folic acid, Vitamin B12, etc.) may stimulate a process known as apoptosis and, thereby, induce breast cancer cell death. (7,8,9)

Choline and Folic Acid Share Common Pathways Involved in Brain Development
Source: Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 February; 89(2): 673S–677S (link)

Anxiety is a condition that almost everyone can relate to. Sometimes it’s a transient state. But judging by the number of anxiolytic medications currently on the market, it appears that anxiety is a rather chronic and significant issue for a large segment of the population. If you’re one of the many who struggle with recurrent anxiety, you may want to consider getting more choline in your diet or via supplementation. A study appearing in the October 2009 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluated blood levels of choline and anxiety or depression symptoms in a group of 5,918 men and women. Those with the lowest choline status showed a dramatic association with higher anxiety scores. Prior research indicates that brain levels of choline, as measured by magnetic resonance imaging, tend to be lower in patients with generalized anxiety disorder as well. (10,11)

Perhaps the biggest issue relating to choline and the modern diet is that it’s often deficient. Multivitamins and prenatal supplements rarely provide even close to the RDA (recommend daily allowance) of 425 milligrams for women and 550 milligrams for men. What’s worse, many of the foods that contain the greatest amounts of choline (beef, eggs, liver, pork, etc.) are often discouraged from being eaten on a regular basis. The first step towards improving the current state of things is to become aware of which foods provide appreciable levels of this essential B-vitamin. If you think you’re unlikely to get enough of this nutrient in your typical menu plan, think about adding a choline supplement to your daily routine. In the future, we may learn that choline is as vital to good health as folic acid or other better known vitamins. Until the official word comes out, it’s up to us all to discuss this issue with our health care team, personally evaluate the evidence and implement as we see fit. (12)

Be well!

JP

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9 Comments to “Choline Research and Food Sources”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    Good Morning JP,

    its always a pleasure in the morning – with my loved cup of green tea :-) – to read your blog. i know how much work writing articles can be. thank you so much for all here!

    its really interessting that the big pharma organizations and related lobbyists want make us belive that eggs, butter and tasty foods like calf’s liver are unhealthy because of high cholesterol gout and so on! thank good that i and my family always had our own opinion on nutrition: i eat butter since im born – can’t live without. i eat calf’s liver regularly and eggs are wonderfull. nobody in my family is really overweight – im slim and healthy so i think it wasn’t a error to eat al those “bad” and “forbidden” food. in my childhood my clasmates always told me that i eat so unhealthy because of the thick layer of butter on my snack :-) .

    however i think for some people those foods can be dangerous. they are all very dense in calories and nutrients, so if overeaten…. maybe dangerous or a false combination with to much refined carbs.

    i love those posts which affirm that a normal natural way of eating is healthy and incredible tasty.

    wish you and mrs. healthyfellow a wonderfull weekend :-)

    we have so much snow here, amazing :-)
    Nina K.

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you, Nina! :)

    I think we’re in one of the very few places in the United States that is actually warm these days – about 70 degrees Fahrenheit!

    My belief is that eating a traditional diet often results in better health. It’s not only what is eaten but also what’s excluded. They key is the central focus on nutrient dense, whole foods.

    I agree that eating normally healthful foods, such as beef, certain dairy and eggs can be harmful in the context of an inappropriate diet. That could be a big part of the reason why some studies have identified cholesterol and saturated fat rich foods as being dangerous. I suspect that’s the case.

    Thanks for all the thoughtful comments you add to these posts and for all your kindness and support. It is very much appreciated! :)

    I hope you and your husband enjoy a good fire (and maybe a nice cup of hot cocoa or coffee) in your Winter wonderland! It sounds beautiful there!

    Be well!

    JP

  3. anne h Says:

    I had a little “cuppa” sugar free hot cocoa/coffee today….
    Not too shabby!
    You sir, are a research guru.
    I love your posts!

  4. Paul Fanton Says:

    Dear JP,

    Thank you for another eye and mind opener article!

    Your research is so well diversified that it will certainly help your audience to became more open minded in their choice of delicious foods, with justification!

    Compliments to Mrs Healthyfellow who is a cathalyst for your tremendous inspiration!

    Happy Sunday!

    Paul

  5. JP Says:

    Many thanks, Anne! That means a lot! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  6. JP Says:

    Thank you, Paul! I will pass along your compliments to Mrs. H! :)

    I hope your Sunday is excellent too!

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Hello
    Its good to know about all this information about choline research.I came to know about that connection between choline and anxiety.Frankly speaking that I did not know about it.Thank you for providing such knowledge to us.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I would like to know what are the sea foods a person can eat, if he has choline deficiency, also can you give me vegetable and fruits sources which have highest amount of choline.

  9. JP Says:

    According to the USDA, shrimp and tilapia contain a fair amount of choline. A rather extensive list of choline rich foods can be found here:

    http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/Choline/Choline.pdf

    Be well!

    JP

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