Recent evidence suggests that choline is an essential nutrient in humans. Small quantities are synthesized in the liver with the help of vitamin B12, folic acid and the amino acid, methionine; but the amounts made may not be sufficient to meet daily needs.

What it does in the body

Fat metabolism

Choline is involved in fat metabolism and in the transport of fats from the liver.

Cell membranes

Choline is a component of cell membranes and plays a role in the transmission of signals inside cells. Myelin, the insulating sheath around the nerves, and platelet activating factor contain choline.


Choline accelerates the synthesis and release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is involved in many nerve and brain functions. Dietary intake of choline seems to affect body levels of acetylcholine.


Choline may be absorbed better in the form of lecithin.


Choline deficiency symptoms in humans include fatty liver and liver damage. These symptoms have been demonstrated only recently in humans fed choline- deficient diets.' This means that choline fulfills one of the criteria for being an essential nutrient. Patients on long-term parenteral nutrition who are not given choline develop fatty infiltration of the liver and other signs of dysfunction. This condition can be improved, and possibly prevented, with choline supplementation. Choline deficiency in animals also leads to nerve degeneration, senile dementia, high blood cholesterol, and liver cancer - possibly by affecting cell signaling or by generating free radicals and DNA alterations.

Nervous system disorders

Uptake of circulating choline into the brain decreases with age. Choline is important for nerve structure and function; and this change may contribute to the type of dementia in which cholinergic nerves are lost.


Good sources of choline in the form of lecithin include eggs, organ meats, lean meat, brewer's yeast, legumes such as soybeans, grains, and nuts. It is found in green leafy vegetables as free choline.

Recommended intakes

Adequate intake levels for choline have recently been set in the US. The average daily diet supplies around 1000 mg.





550 mg

425 mg

450 mg

550 mg




The tolerable upper intake limit has been set at 3 g per day.

Choline is actively transported from mother to fetus across the placenta and from mother to infant across the mammary gland. Thus, during pregnancy and lactation, dietary requirements for choline are increased.


Alcoholics, diabetics and anyone who has deficiency symptoms may benefit from supplements either of lecithin or of choline. Supplemental choline is often in the form of lecithin. The choline content of supplements varies widely.

Toxic effects

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Choline supplements

Toxic effects at high doses may include reduced appetite, nausea, gastrointestinal problems and a 'fishy' body odor.



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