If you’re looking for healthier brain function regardless of age, one nutrient comes to the forefront—choline. Found in high concentrations in egg yolks, choline is an essential nutrient that’s often at the forefront of any nootropic stack.
Why? Because without sufficient amounts of choline in your brain, the rest likely doesn’t work at its optimal level.
Although neither a vitamin nor mineral, we classify choline as a water-soluble nutrient related to the B vitamins that became recognized as essential by the US Institute of Medicine in 1998 1. And because your body can’t produce choline on its own, it must come from diet or supplements.
Besides brain function, your body relies on choline for things like nervous system function, growth and development, heart health, and much more. If you’re considering taking a choline supplement but unsure where to start, we have your answers.
In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about this essential nutrient: its benefits, deficiency signs and symptoms, and potential side effects.
Ready to get started?
What Is Choline?
As we said, choline is neither a vitamin nor a mineral. It’s a water-soluble nutrient related to the B vitamins that plays a similar role in supporting energy metabolism, brain function, growth and development, and more.
It’s an essential nutrient for the liver and muscles and also acts as one of the fundamental building blocks for your brain thanks to its role as a precursor nutrient for two essential compounds:
- Acetylcholine (ACh): A neurotransmitter that facilitates communication between neurons in the brain 2. It is also the primary neurotransmitter at neuromuscular junctions.
- Phosphatidylcholine (PC): One of the most abundant phospholipids in cell membranes. PC acts as a choline reservoir for acetylcholine synthesis 3.
By supporting levels of acetylcholine, phosphatidylcholine, and other essential brain chemicals, choline is heavily involved in promoting healthier cognitive performance, especially for learning and memory, attention, focus, cognitive regeneration, and muscular performance.
While there may not be a standard recommended daily intake (RD) for choline established by the USDA, getting enough through diet and supplementation is imperative to avoid a choline deficiency, as low levels can be detrimental to the nervous, endocrine, digestive, and reproductive systems.
6 Health Benefits Of Choline
1. DNA and cell formation
Because choline supports proper fat absorption, it helps in the formation of cell membranes and structures that support optimal cell function.
Without sufficient choline, cell structure deteriorates, and nerve signals aren’t transmitted 4. Along with folate, choline is also required to form DNA, as it’s one of the essential nutrients involved in the methyl group processes 7.
2. Promotes better learning and memory
Thanks to its role in the production of acetylcholine, choline is critical for brain health. Acetylcholine is involved in several aspects of memory, including working memory, long-term memory, memory formation, and memory consolidation and retrieval.
Ach plays an essential role in supporting hippocampal and cortical synaptic plasticity—the ability to shape signaling between neurons and alter learning and memory.
Some research suggests that low choline levels and impaired acetylcholine production may increase the risk of memory disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s 6.
On top of that, elasticity in the brain decreases as we age, and choline is vital for maintaining brain elasticity by maintaining appropriate levels of acetylcholine, which naturally declines with age.
3. Supports the nervous system
One of the primary benefits of choline is that it supports the proper function of the central nervous system.
Because choline is an essential component of cell membranes, it not only supports the structural integrity and signaling functions of all cells but also is necessary for proper neurotransmission, which is how all cells communicate 7, 8.
But remember that only small amounts of dietary choline are metabolized into acetylcholine, which is essential for the function of nerves that regulate and control breathing, heart rate, and skeletal muscle movements.
4. May support muscle function and athletic performance
Mental energy, focus, and concentration are all critical components for athletic performance, and choline may enhance them. It is suggested that choline’s effect on metabolism and neurotransmitters in the brain can improve reaction times and reduce the time needed for mental processing 9.
But it may also benefit energy levels, mood, sleep, and recovery following intense exercise.
5. May benefit heart health
High homocysteine is a big issue for cardiovascular health. Research suggests that because choline and folate assist in converting homocysteine to less toxic intermediates, it may protect heart health and prevent cardiovascular events 10.
Homocysteine is an amino acid derived from protein, and high homocysteine has been implicated in the development of cardiovascular diseases.
And while some research shows that choline and lecithin can help reduce blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease, it hasn’t been confirmed as a benefit of choline supplementation. That said, some doctors prescribe choline for its ability to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
6. Supports a healthy pregnancy
For pregnant women, choline is a must. Needs increase during pregnancy because choline is rapidly used by the growing fetus for brain development, cell structures, and nerve channel formation.
Some research shows that higher intakes of choline during pregnancy lead to better brain function for the fetus and a reduced risk of brain abnormalities 11, 12.
Since choline is naturally found in breast milk, it also helps to support the proper growth and development of a newborn. Because neuron synapses rapidly develop in the fetal brain, choline is essential in supporting the foundation of the brain’s structure 13.
How Much Choline Do You Need?
Although the body can produce small amounts of choline, it’s not enough for its essential roles. As such, we need to consume choline through diet and/or supplementation.
Some of the best sources of dietary choline include 1:
- Egg (125 mg per 1 large)
- Chicken liver (247 mg per 3 oz.)
- Sockeye salmon, smoked (187 mg per 3 oz.)
- Quinoa, raw (60 mg per ½ cup)
- Chicken, roasted (56 mg per 3 oz.)
- Wheat germ, toasted (50 mg per 2 tbsp.)
- Cauliflower, boiled (24 mg per ½ cup)
- Green peas, cooked (22 mg per ½ cup)
- Almonds (15 mg per 1 oz.)
- Pecans (15 mg per 1 oz.)
- Tomato paste (12 mg per 2 tbsp.)
- Flax seed (11 mg per 2 tbsp.)
Although choline is still being studied to determine its benefits and uses, most experts agree on certain amounts for specific populations that produce benefits with little associated risks 1:
- Infants and babies: 125–150 mg/day
- Children aged 1-8: 150–250 mg/day
- Teenagers aged 8-13: 250–375 mg/day
- Women 14+: 425–550 mg/day
- Men 14+: 550 mg/day
- Breastfeeding women: 550 mg/day
- Pregnant women: 450 mg/day
Choline Deficiency Signs And Symptoms
Although a choline deficiency is less common than many other nutrients, some research suggests people may not get enough, despite consuming enough through diet, due to inadequate absorption.
Certain factors make choline harder to absorb, which means the average person doesn’t meet the daily recommended intake of choline 1. This can be due to a combination of genetic factors and increased needs.
Some research suggests that up to 50% of the population may have genetic polymorphisms that increase dietary methyl requirements—choline is a major source of methyl groups—thereby leaving them at risk of choline deficiency.
Some of the most common symptoms of a choline deficiency include:
- Low energy or fatigue
- Impaired memory
- Cognitive decline
- Learning disabilities
- Nerve damage
- Muscles aches
- Mood changes
Eating a diet rich in a variety of foods is the best way to ensure you’re meeting your needs for choline. However, because choline is concentrated in animal sources, vegans and vegetarians may be at a higher risk for choline deficiency.
To prevent low levels, supplementation may be your best bet—and it doesn’t get better than Mind Lab Pro.
It’s an ultra-modern nootropic supplement featuring Cognizin®—one of the most effective forms of choline because it converts to two key compounds upon consumption:
- Choline: 18% choline by weight
- Cytidine: The precursor to uridine, a nucleotide that plays a significant role in synaptic strength and neural connectivity
Choline + cytidine makes for a powerful cognitive enhancer that surpasses the standard functions of a sole choline supplement.
Why is citicoline the best choice?
- Boosts neurotransmitter synthesis: Improves acetylcholine synthesis while potentially increasing dopamine release, the neurotransmitter responsible for sensations of reward and pleasure.
- Promotes synaptogenesis: Possesses powerful neuroregenerative potential that can enhance both brain neuroprotection and neurorepair mechanisms 14.
- Increases ATP and phosphocreatine: Studies show that citicoline supplementation can increase phosphocreatine levels by 7% and ATP levels by 14%, which increases energy reserves and utilization, along with amounts of phospholipid membrane components needed to synthesize and maintain cell membrane integrity and function 15.
In short, citicoline covers all your cognitive bases by supporting attention and mental performance, memory, and learning, making it one of the most effective nootropic supplements on the market.
Plus, it’s ultra-pure—99%+ pure citicoline verified by precision analytical testing and its superior quality is known for its safety, absorption, and stability.
Side Effects of Choline
Although choline is considered safe and non-toxic for human consumption, too much choline, like all nutrients, can be harmful. Too much choline can cause toxicity and result in symptoms like:
- High blood pressure
- Excessive perspiration
- Fishy odor of the skin
But it’s also important to note that serotonin and acetylcholine have an inverse relationship in your brain—when levels of one increase, the other decreases, and vice versa 16.
As such, taking too much choline can increase levels of acetylcholine too much and reduce serotonin levels.
- Zeisel SH, da Costa KA. Choline: an essential nutrient for public health. Nutr Rev. 2009;67(11):615-623.
- Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. Acetylcholine. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11143/
- van der Veen JN, Kennelly JP, Wan S, Vance JE, Vance DE, Jacobs RL. The critical role of phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine metabolism in health and disease. Biochim Biophys Acta Biomembr. 2017;1859(9 Pt B):1558-1572.
- Secades JJ, Frontera G. CDP-choline: pharmacological and clinical review. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 1995;17 Suppl B:1-54.
- Niculescu MD, Zeisel SH. Diet, methyl donors and DNA methylation: interactions between dietary folate, methionine and choline. J Nutr. 2002;132(8 Suppl):2333S-2335S.
- Lippelt DP, van der Kint S, van Herk K, Naber M. No Acute Effects of Choline Bitartrate Food Supplements on Memory in Healthy, Young, Human Adults. PLoS One. 2016;11(6):e0157714.
- Sanders LM, Zeisel SH. Choline: Dietary Requirements and Role in Brain Development. Nutr Today. 2007;42(4):181-186.
- Poly C, Massaro JM, Seshadri S, et al. The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;94(6):1584-1591.
- Zeisel SH. Choline: needed for normal development of memory. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000;19(5 Suppl):528S-531S.
- da Costa KA, Gaffney CE, Fischer LM, Zeisel SH. Choline deficiency in mice and humans is associated with increased plasma homocysteine concentration after a methionine load. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81(2):440-444.
- Zeisel SH. Choline: critical role during fetal development and dietary requirements in adults. Annu Rev Nutr. 2006;26:229-250.
- Korsmo HW, Jiang X, Caudill MA. Choline: Exploring the Growing Science on Its Benefits for Moms and Babies. 2019;11(8):1823.
- Zeisel SH. Nutritional importance of choline for brain development. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(6 Suppl):621S-626S.
- Alvarez-Sabín J, Román GC. The role of citicoline in neuroprotection and neurorepair in ischemic stroke. Brain Sci. 2013;3(3):1395-1414.
- Silveri MM, Dikan J, Ross AJ, et al. Citicoline enhances frontal lobe bioenergetics as measured by phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy. NMR Biomed. 2008;21(10):1066-1075.
- Caldenhove S, Borghans LGJM, Blokland A, Sambeth A. Role of acetylcholine and serotonin in novelty processing using an oddball paradigm. Behav Brain Res. 2017;331:199-204.