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These days, there’s a wealth of information about what we need to do to keep ourselves healthy. However, there might be some elements of your health that you’re not yet familiar with. For example, a deficiency can occur when you’re not getting enough of the choline nutrient; it’s rare, but can have serious consequences. Here’s a rundown of what symptoms of choline deficiency you should be looking for.
What is choline?
Choline was determined to be an essential nutrient in our bodies by the Institute of Medicine back in 1998. It’s a water-soluble compound that’s made in the liver and has similar properties to Vitamin B. Although most of the choline you need is made by your own body, it can also be found in some foods and supplements.
Why do we need choline?
Choline plays a vital role in many processes in our body, including:
- Cell structure. It’s needed to make fats that support the structure of cell membranes.
- Cell messaging. It’s used in the production of compounds that serve as cell messengers.
- Fat transport and metabolism. It helps make a substance that’s needed to remove cholesterol from your liver; a lack of choline means you could experience fat and cholesterol build-up in your liver.
- DNA synthesis. Along with B12 and folate, choline helps with DNA synthesis.
The nutrient is also responsible for keeping your nervous system functioning effectively. Choline is needed to make an important neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. This is responsible for everything from muscle movement to regulating your heartbeat. Other benefits are currently being studied, including relation to a possible decrease in risk of heart disease; positive effects on brain function, development and memory; and potential for lowering anxiety levels.
What are the symptoms of choline deficiency?
Choline deficiency is rare, but when it occurs, it is marked by damage to the liver or muscles and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (also known as NAFLD or hepatosteatosis). A deficiency can also impact healthy brain development and muscle movement, and impede your nervous system and metabolism from working properly.
Can you test for choline deficiency?
Your doctor can run tests (which mainly examine your liver function) to see if you’re exhibiting signs of choline deficiency. However, it’s important to note that it is fairly rare for people to have a serious deficiency in choline. A few studies have suggested that men and post-menopausal women experienced liver and/or muscle damage after going on a specific diet low in choline, but these symptoms quickly disappeared as soon as they started consuming more choline again. It’s believed that post-menopausal women are more at risk because oestrogen levels drop during menopause (and oestrogen helps produce choline in the body).
Choline is also especially important during pregnancy. Researchers believe pregnant women require more choline during this time because they’re producing enough for their baby in utero as well. A low intake of choline during pregnancy could result in neural tube defects in unborn babies, along with an increased risk of preeclampsia, premature birth and low birth weight.
Two other groups are more likely to experience a choline deficiency: endurance athletes and alcoholics. Athletes are at risk because choline levels decrease during long endurance exercises like marathons. Alcoholics are at risk because alcohol can damage the liver, which is often the main organ affected by low choline levels.
How do you get choline in your diet?
Even if you’re not in one of the above-mentioned at-risk groups for choline deficiency, you still want to make sure you’re consuming an adequate amount of choline daily. In general, adult women should be getting about 425 mg per day and adult men about 550 mg. Breastfeeding women should increase their intake to around 550 mg and pregnant women should try to increase their intake to about 450 mg.
To make sure your body has enough choline, you can add certain foods to your diet. These dietary sources typically come in the form of phosphatidylcholine from lecithin (which is a type of fat). Your best bets for higher doses of choline come in:
- Beef liver
- Chicken liver
- Fresh cod
- Soybean oil
You don’t need to consume large quantities of these foods to reach the recommended dosage of choline. For example, two large eggs provide you with almost half of the daily requirement. A single 85 g serving of beef kidney or liver can supply nearly all of a woman’s daily requirement and most of a man’s.
If you don’t want to change too much of your diet, but you’re still concerned about choline deficiency, you can also use a food additive like soy lecithin (which can be found as a supplement). Other possible supplement sources include choline chloride, CDP-choline, alpha-GPC and betaine. You can also try out the NAC Plus 200 supplement; it’s a vegan supplement that contains choline and other ingredients aimed at supporting healthy liver function.
For the most part, the majority of healthy adults do not need to worry about having a choline deficiency. However, if you want to help your body function optimally and avoid problems with your liver, try adding in some of those choline-rich foods or test out a supplement instead. Just remember to go over any changes you’ll be making with your doctor first; they should know if you’re concerned about your liver, and they can help monitor you to make sure a choline deficiency doesn’t develop.