Why many people may be lacking this essential overlooked brain nutrient

Choline: an essential overlooked brain nutrient

Choline is an important nutrient for brain health. It’s called an essential nutrient as the body cannot make sufficient amounts for its daily needs so must be obtained from the diet, but many people may lack sufficient intake via the diet.

The British Medical Journal published a report in 2019 asking “Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the UK?”


Humans can produce some choline in the form of phosphatidyl choline in the liver, but most is obtained via the diet. Interestingly, oestrogen is involved in the synthesis of choline in the liver. As oestrogen levels decline in menopausal women, greater mounts are required via the diet for these women.

It has also been found that those with a specific variant/deviation on the gene involved in phosphatidyl choline synthesis also reduces the amount available via the liver. 

United States vs UK

Choline an essential overlooked brain nutrient

Since 2018 in the United States, paediatricians are encouraged to recommend that pregnant women include dietary sources of choline (and other brain building nutrients) in their diet. Since choline plays such a significant role in the development of a healthy brain.  This is not yet the case in the UK. And no dietary reference values have been set for it, unlike other vitamins and minerals.

In 2016 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) did determine dietary requirements for choline, but these have not been built into the UK official recommendations. The EFSA determined 400 mg/day for most adults (with greater amounts during pregnancy and lactation).  In the US, up to 500 mg is considered the “adequate intake” required. 

What does choline do for us?

Choline an essential overlooked brain nutrient

It is required to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter chemical that transmits messages from the brain to the body through nerve cells. This neurotransmitter has an essential role in regulating memory, mood and intelligence. It is needed for brain function and development. It is also required to form the membranes that surround your body’s cells that keep cells permeable to nutrients to enter and allows toxicity to exit.

A lack of choline has been shown to lead to poor cognitive performance. And newer research suggests that this nutrient has a role in the prevention of neurodegeneration that can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

How do we obtain choline in the diet?

Choline an essential overlooked brain nutrient

Animal foods contain more choline per unit weight than plant sources:

  • 3oz beef liver provides 356 mg;
  • 2 large eggs provide 300 mg
  • 3oz cod or beef or chicken provides 70 mg 

Plant foods contain lower levels. For example, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli provides 40 mg per typical serving, with 20 mg in a typical serving of sunflower seeds or brown rice.

The most reliable way to obtain sufficient choline is to consume eggs and other animal protein foods every day. But with the trend towards more plant based food (either for ethical, environmental or even health reasons), consumption of choline appears to be declining, possibly below ideal levels.

And since post-menopausal women will produce less choline via the liver (due to a lack of oestrogen), then it is important that close attention is paid to ensuring an adequate dietary intake and/or consider a supplement, especially if you are vegan or vegetarian.

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Gut Health Nutritionist Caroline Peyton Principles
Caroline is a Professional Nutritionist, Naturopath based in Wiltshire.

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