CHOLINE (trimethylaminoethanol)

Choline is a nitrogen-containing substance that functions as a building block of an important lipid, LECITHIN, and an important brain chemical, ACETYLCHOLINE. Lecithin is a phospholipid and a primary component of all cell membranes. As a membrane constituent, lecithin helps insulate nerves. As a NEUROTRANSMITTER, acetylcholine is one of the chemicals that carry impulses for cholinergic nerves. Choline is synthesized by most tissues from the essential AMINO ACID, METHIONINE.

Choline occurs in foods as a component of lecithin. Good sources of lecithin are egg yolk (1.5%); SOYBEANS (0.35%); beef liver (0.6%), as well as CAULIFLOWER, BEANS, LEGUMES, GRAINS and WHEAT germ. The typical Western diet supplies adults with 500 to 900 mg daily. A deficiency disease has not been demonstrated in humans, and it is not clear whether a dietary source of choline is required for optimal health.

Choline and lecithin supplements may improve short-term memory in normal and in senile people. Specifically regions of brains of Alzheimer’s patients are deficient in acetylcholine and choline and lecithin supplements may improve short-term memory in some patients with ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE in the beginning stages of the disorder. However, these supplements do not reverse or arrest Alzheimer’s disease. Diet doesn’t boost the level of choline in the brain very much.

Choline may help the liver mobilize fat deposits (fatty liver) that accompany a decline in normal liver function. Fatty liver occurs during STARVATION and ALCOHOLISM. Choline has been used to treat tardive dyskinesia, a twitching of facial muscles that can develop as a side effect of treatment with antipsycotic drugs. High doses of choline can cause dizziness, vomiting and a strong fishy odor.

Canty, D.J. and Zeisel, S.H., “Lecithin and Choline in Human Health and Disease,” Nutrition Reviews, 52:10 (1994), pp. 327-39.