Choline supplements are a type of dietary supplement designed to increase levels of the amino acid choline in the body. As an essential amino acid, choline serves as a building block for several other chemicals in the body, including those involved in cell formation and nerve function. The body manufactures some choline, while the rest usually comes from food. Regardless, some people choose to use choline supplements. This may be due to a deficiency, a desire to improve certain health concerns, or aid in fetal development, which some studies have shown choline supplements to be useful for.
Natural sources of choline include soybeans and other soy products, egg yolks, liver, and wheat germ. It may also be found in smaller amounts in other foods, such as milk, peanut butter, and cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli and Brussels sprouts. In these natural forms, choline is generally derived from lecithin. As a supplement, it often comes in the form of choline bitartrate or choline chloride.
In the body, choline plays numerous roles. It helps make up the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which plays a role in muscle control and memory. Also, it helps comprise phosphatidylcholine, which plays a role in eliminating fat from the liver. While choline is essential to the body’s functions, true medical deficiency is thought to be uncommon. One situation where deficiency may be seen in is in people receiving nutrition through an intravenous (IV) tube.
Although deficiencies are thought to be unusual, some people still choose to take additional choline. This is often due to the belief choline supplementation may help with certain health concerns. For example, some studies have shown choline supplements may help lower cholesterol levels and improve moods. Other studies have shown they may aid in memory and learning.
There is also growing interest in the role of choline dietary supplements during pregnancy. Animal studies have revealed a link between choline taken in the prenatal period and increased cognitive performance in offspring. Some studies have also shown evidence that points to choline playing a possible role in lowering the risk of certain birth defects.
Anyone who is considering a choline supplement typically should talk with a health care provider. Supplements may not be beneficial for everyone. For example, some people have a disorder called trimethylaminuria that does not allow them to break down one of the chemicals produced by the body when choline is ingested. In these people, consumption of choline can cause a buildup of trimethylamine, which gives off an unpleasant fishy odor.