Choline: Are You Getting Enough?

By Margaret Eich, MS, RDN

Are you getting enough choline in your diet? Most women are not, and most women may not have even heard of choline. Choline plays an important role in fetal development, including brain development. Most people have heard they need to get enough folic acid (or folate) before and during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects, but did you know that choline may also play a role in preventing neural tube defects, like spina bifida? Research has produced conflicting results in this area, but ensuring adequate choline intake makes sense while the research sorts itself out, especially given choline’s other benefits.

In addition to a potential role in preventing neural tube defects, choline deficiency may also play a role in the development of fatty liver. Choline is also a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is involved in muscle control and memory. In addition, choline is converted to betaine in your body, which assists in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine, thus preventing homocysteine levels from becoming elevated. Elevated homocysteine is associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease and miscarriage.

Choline is not technically considered a vitamin, since our bodies make small amounts, but our bodies don’t make enough to meet our daily choline needs. Therefore, we need to get choline in our diet. Non-pregnant women need 425 mg choline daily, and this goes up to 450 mg during pregnancy, and 550 mg while breastfeeding. In the US, average choline intake is well below this recommended level with women on average only taking in 260 mg choline per day!

The best food sources of choline include liver, eggs, meat, seafood, legumes, and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. One egg provides almost 150 mg choline, which underscores how helpful eggs are in meeting your choline needs. Not only are eggs rich in choline, but they are also just a very nutrient dense food to support your overall health, fertility, and pregnancy. Because choline is most concentrated in animal foods, vegans or vegetarians who eat limited eggs and dairy products are at highest risk for choline deficiency. Since so many US women struggle with getting enough choline, it’s a good idea to take a prenatal vitamin that contains choline, especially if you are vegan or vegetarian with limited intake of eggs.

Looking for more information about nutrition for fertility and pregnancy? Book a nutrition consult today!

References:

  1. Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Choline
  2. Caudill, et al. Pre- and Postnatal Health: Evidence of Increased Choline Needs. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2010; 110:1198-1206

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *