If you lack the nutrient choline, you could have liver disease. And the risk of getting Alzheimer’s or cardiovascular disease may increase.
Researcher Anthea Van Parys defended her doctorate on the nutrient called choline in 2022 at the University of Bergen. During a recent talk, she revealed a secret:
“I had never heard of this nutrient before starting work on my PhD,” she said at the podium of a conference organized by Norsk tidsskrift for ernæring – the Norwegian journal of nutrition.
During the defense of her doctorate it became clear that the US opponent did not even know how to pronounce the word in English.
And this is an absolutely essential nutrient for humans.
Liver disease, cardiovascular disease and dementia
Choline is needed to build the cell membrane that separates the inside of the cell from the outside environment.
The nutrient is also needed to support energy function in the body, as well as gene regulation. Your nervous system needs it to store memories and to control and regulate your muscles and your mood.
Choline is also involved in the mechanisms that transport fat out of the liver. Without this nutrient, fat will accumulate. This is why a lack of choline can lead to fatty liver and serious liver damage.
Several studies have also found a correlation between a lack of choline and cardiovascular disease, as well as Alzheimer’s disease.
A recently published study in mice showed that a diet with a deficient choline level caused organ damage and Alzheimer’s-like disease.
Choline is found in different foods.
The body can produce some choline on its own. That’s why researchers have long believed it wasn’t necessary for humans to ensure they get enough choline through their diet, Van Parys told the conference.
But the amount of choline that the body is able to produce is not enough. And therefore it is absolutely necessary to eat foods containing choline.
Fortunately, many foods do.
Foods that contain the most choline come from the animal kingdom: beef liver, beef, egg yolks and salmon are rich in choline.
But the nutrient is also found in vegetables such as soybeans and other legumes, potatoes and broccoli. Grains and nuts also contain choline.
No knowledge about ingestion
The question is whether people get enough choline from eating these foods.
Today we simply do not know the answer to that. Choline levels are rarely measured in healthy people, and we also lack research to establish exactly how much we really need.
While Norway lacks choline guidelines, the US National Institutes of Health has developed a fact sheet for healthcare professionals. They recommend a daily intake of 550 milligrams for men and 425 milligrams for women.
But hardly anyone eats that much. The rat study mentioned earlier establishes that about 90 percent of the American population has a choline intake level below the recommended daily allowance.
If the results of the mouse experiments are also valid in humans, more choline in the diet could reduce the expected increase in Alzheimer’s disease, according to the researchers.
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too much is not good either
For those who may now think that choline supplements for everyone would be good for their health – hold on to your horses.
There is very little research on the availability of choline in such supplements actually for the body and its effects on health.
Another thing to consider is that too much hill may not be a good thing.
Some studies have found a correlation between a high choline intake and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This could be due to the fact that choline can be transformed into the metabolite TMAO, which has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
More research is needed
Van Parys encourages nutrition researchers to show an interest in this essential nutrient.
“We need more research on this,” she told the conference.
“We need data for recommendations and research on what the population’s actual intake is, as well as knowledge about choline levels in different foods. The US and European numbers don’t always match,” she said.
Translated by: Ida Irene Bergstrøm
Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no