Out of the many nutrients that our bodies need every single day, some get most of the limelight than others. Take vitamin C, which is fairly common. It boosts our immune system and is mostly sourced from citrus fruits.
In contrast, others are less popular, like choline. If you have no idea what it is, well, you're not alone. But we all need more of this in our diets.
Choline was first identified in 1863, but its value wasn't determined until the late 1990s. It was already 1998 when the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Medicine officially recognized it.
The Role of Choline
While it is not 100% clear exactly how choline could help the brain function as we age, it is an important research field.
Continuous research into the role choline plays in brain function has shown promise as a possible new way to prevent or treat Alzheimer's disease and other causes of dementia. One research in 2011 found dietary choline to be essential to preserving brain activity as it is transformed into neurotransmitters by the body that enables brain cells to interact with each other.
This nutrient is also essential to avoid damage to the artery lining and to deter blockages in the blood vessels. Choline achieves this by reducing homocysteine levels, an amino acid related to cardiovascular disease. High homocysteine levels can result in a heart attack, a stroke, or a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot in a lung artery.
Choline takes cholesterol and fat out of the liver. But if you don't have enough choline in your diet, it will result in fatty liver disease.
Fatty liver disease, also known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD, affects approximately one-third of American adults and 10% of children, making it one of the most prevalent forms of liver disease in the United States.
Too much fat is retained in liver cells in people with NAFLD, which can lead to liver inflammation, scarring (or cirrhosis), and liver failure. The liver injury is close to what's found in patients who drink alcohol and experience liver cirrhosis in alcoholics.
It's also important for pregnant women and those seeking to become pregnant to get enough choline. To prevent neural tube birth defects in newborns, choline is necessary. Choline can help avoid deficits during a baby's brain development, close to how the B-vitamin folate does.
For people struggling with their intake of choline from food, an option is choline supplements. However, supplementation should only be second next to a proper diet.