Choline can be made by the body, more specifically the liver, but not in the amounts required, so we must get choline from the diet. This makes choline an essential nutrient. Choline is commonly referred to as vitamin B4 but despite sharing similarities with the B vitamins it is neither a vitamin nor a mineral.
The US Institute of Medicine officially recognized choline as an essential nutrient in 1998. It was determined that there was insufficient evidence to establish an estimated average requirement (EAR). As a result, adequate intakes (AI) of 550mg/day and 425mg/day were set for men and women respectively. The AIs for pregnant women (450mg/day) and lactating women (550mg/day) are higher due to their increased needs and loss of choline through breast milk. Similarly, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) established an AI of 400mg/day for adults with higher levels for pregnant and lactating women.
Interestingly, the UK does not recognize choline as an essential nutrient. Consequently, choline is not included in UK dietary food bases or government recommendations and as such recent calls to the UK government have been made requesting the re-evaluation of their position.
Choline has several important functions in the body. It serves as a source of methyl groups which are needed for numerous steps in metabolism. Choline is required for making acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, and phosphatidylcholine which is a vital component of cell membranes. So, more simply, choline’s functions are involved in nerve transmissions, muscle movement and the structure of cells.
It’s vital during fetal development, namely the brain and spinal cord. Inadequate intake can result in impaired memory function and neural tube defects.
As folate acts as a methyl donor, if a person’s folate intake is low then the requirement for choline increases to compensate. Choline requirements are also affected by genetics, which is not taken into account by government recommendations.
Choline can be found in a wide variety of foods. The highest amounts are found in animal foods, particularly eggs, beef and salmon. Choline can also be found in many plant foods, albeit at lower levels, such as soybeans, quinoa, nuts, cruciferous vegetables and whole grains.
It has been found that only 11% of US adults meet the AI and the same is true for Europe. As those on a plant-based diet consume foods with a lower amount of choline per serving it’s important that a balanced and varied diet is eaten to meet the AI.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a disease associated with obesity. It is characterized by an accumulation of fat in the liver which causes inflammation and can eventually lead to liver failure.
Choline is essential for lipid transport because it helps form the particles that are required for lipids to be carried in the blood. Therefore, a lack of choline means less fat can be carried out of the liver which allows it to accumulate. If food consumption is high, as is the case for those with obesity, then choline deficiency could exacerbate the problems that arise. It’s still unclear the exact role of choline in NAFLD prevention and treatment but it’s an interesting area of development.
Due to the brain being home to an estimated 1 billion neurons choline plays a major role in the brain’s proper functioning. So, choline has also been implicated in neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer patients appear to have at least one negative alteration related to choline metabolism. Furthermore, because of choline’s role in the structural integrity of cells, it’s been suggested it can slow cognitive decline in older adults. However, clinical trials involving supplementation in this field are mixed[21, 22].
Huel Powder and Huel Ready-to-drink contain 110mg of choline per 400kcal serving or 550mg per 2000kcal, in line with the higher US recommendation. Around 20% of the choline is provided by the main ingredients and the rest is added as part of the vitamin and mineral blend in the form of L-choline bitartrate. L-choline bitartrate is the preferred form approved for food fortification, mainly due to its higher absorption rate (REF).
As most people struggle to get enough choline in their diet, Huel is an easy way to ensure at least one meal contains an adequate amount of choline.
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