You’ve misplaced your phone, you’ve successfully added three more tasks to your daily quota without finishing any others and you missed your exit on your drive into work this morning. If your daily demands are piling up and you just can’t seem to get a handle on them, adding a little bit of choline to your diet just might change your life.
What is choline?
To be honest, everyone argues about what, exactly, choline is. Vitamin? Kind of. Amino acid? Sorta.
Instead of diving headlong into this debate, let’s just go ahead and call it an “essential nutrient” that is critical for brain development and function.
Choline is important for a large number of things in your body. It is involved in neurotransmitter production, keeping your cell membranes healthy, moving fats to where they need to be, and keeping other metabolites in balance.
Your liver can make a small amount of choline, however the majority of choline comes from your diet. Some foods that are rich in choline include, eggs, soybeans, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts etc), beef and chicken liver.
The bad news is, recent studies suggest that most of the North American population is not getting close to enough choline in their diet.
In addition to food, choline also comes in a variety of supplemental forms:
- Choline bitartrate
How does choline work in your brain?
Choline is critical for making the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and for keeping neuronal membranes happy and healthy.
Acetylcholine is synthesized in a specific type of neuron, called a “cholinergic neuron”. To make acetylcholine, you need 2 precursors: choline and acetyl coenzyme A (scientists call this guy acetyl CoA for short). The majority of choline is provided by your diet, while acetyl CoA is made from glucose in your mitochondria.
After ingesting choline, it passes through the blood-brain barrier (BBB: the wall in the brain that says what can go in and out). Once it is in your brain an enzyme called choline acetyltransferase converts acetyl CoA and choline into acetylcholine.
Maintaining healthy levels of acetylcholine in the brain is critical for overall health as well as attention, learning and memory.
Pretty cool right? Well, choline doesn’t stop there.
At the same time, some choline can be converted into phosphatidylcholine. Phosphatidylcholine is a fatty molecule essential for cell membranes.
Phosphatidylcholine can then be dismantled to provide choline to the acetylcholine pathway. Your neurons fluctuate between these two reactions, as needed.
Why Choline Enhances Brain Function
Several studies show that a diet rich in choline or choline supplementation can enhance neuroprotective and cognitive functions. Choline itself has the potential to increase acetylcholine levels in the brain, which are critical for working memory and focus.
Pregnant women are at higher risk for choline deficiency. Studies looking at choline intake during pregnancy showed that the children of mothers who had a diet rich in choline displayed better scores in visuospatial memory and non-verbal intelligence. Looking at different biomarkers in pregnant women after choline supplementation, showed lower levels of cortisol in the placental cord. This suggests that choline could help negate the adverse effects of prenatal stress.
Choline appears to be important throughout your life, and could compensate for cognitive decline in healthy elderly. As you age, there is a natural decline in cell membrane integrity. The lipids derived from phosphatidylcholine help to keep your cell membranes together. Choline supplementation can enhance cognitive functions as well as preserve phosphorylcholine levels. This suggests that choline supplementation could compensate for cognitive decline in a healthy aging population as well as exert neuroprotective properties.
There is strong evidence that choline supplementation can enhance cognition in healthy adults in specific cognitive processes like specific memories and visuomotor abilities, such as drawing or throwing a ball.
Similar to Tyrosine, healthy adults who are deficient in choline will see the most cognitive benefit from choline supplementation. The theory is that high performers already have optimal levels of acetylcholine, while low-performers have lower levels, and thus decreasing cognitive performance.
Choline bitartrate vs. Other Forms
The debate for which choline form is the best for supplementation is real. Each has their own take on which form is the best. We have looked extremely closely at all the forms and their advantages and disadvantages.
Most companies will rant and rave that choline bitartrate is an inferior supplement since it is less expensive and not as well absorbed as other forms.
The truth is that choline bitartrate is the most globally researched of all the forms, and displays the most generalized effect. Other forms like CDP-Choline and Alpha-GPC show promising effects but this is done in a specific and select population like low cognitive performers and the elderly.
Based on the current scientific literature, choline bitartrate provides several benefits including improvement in visual motor coordinator, cognitive functions, overall health and possible neuroprotective effects in the elderly.