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Choline

Other name(s)

choline bitartrate, choline chloride, choline dihydrogen

General description

Choline is a part of many chemicals within the body. It’s water-soluble. All of the jobs of choline are not yet known. It may be needed for your liver and kidneys to work well. Choline is also a part of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This is a chemical that passes messages between nerves. It also passes messages between nerves and muscles.

Choline is also the building block of lecithin and sphingomyelins. Lecithin is a part of cell walls, plasma, and lipoproteins. Sphingomyelin is the insulating material of brain and nerve tissue.

Medical uses

You can get all the choline you need from your diet. Choline deficiency only happens in rare cases. For this reason, the use of choline supplements is limited. Choline doesn’t have an established use as a supplement in healthy people.

Unproven claims

There may be benefits that have not yet been proven through research.

Choline supplements may help treat neurological issues due to the cholinergic system. But studies show that these supplements don’t affect brain metabolism.

Choline is claimed to help treat these conditions:

  • Tardive dyskinesia

  • Huntington chorea

  • Tourette syndrome

  • Friedreich ataxia

  • Presenile dementia

  • Fatty liver and cirrhosis

Choline supplements are said to reduce cholesterol, control mood swings, and protect the liver from damage due to alcohol. They also may lower blood pressure, boost memory, and treat Alzheimer's disease. Choline may also enhance athletic performance.

Choline may help prevent neural tube defects in pregnancy. It also aids in fetal brain development.

Recommended intake

The Adequate Intake (AI) of choline is 550 mg for adult men and 425 mg for adult women. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need more. Most people in the U.S. don't get enough choline in their diet.

About 9 in 10 to 19 in 20 pregnant women don't meet the AI for choline. Some studies suggest that low choline levels in pregnancy are linked with an increased risk for neural tube defects. But other research found no such link.

Foods that contain choline include egg yolks, soybean, wheat germ, peanuts, and liver.

Choline deficiency in animals may lead to liver problems and kidney damage. These liver problems have led to liver cancer in laboratory animals. However, this has not yet been found in humans.

People being fed by IV may have low serum levels of choline, which may require them to need choline supplements

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

Choline may cause a stomachache, diarrhea, or loose stools. This can happen at normal doses. Large amounts (about 20 g) of choline may cause other side effects. These can include dizziness, low blood pressure (hypotension), and fishy body odor. They can also include depression and heart rhythm problems.

Choline may cause depression in some people. You should not use choline if you have bipolar disorder.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should talk to their healthcare providers before taking any supplements.

There are no known interactions between choline and any food or medicine. People with low folate levels may need more choline.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brittany Poulson MDA RDN CD CDE
Online Medical Reviewer: Diane Horowitz MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2021