Choline (Vitamin B4)


Choline first received notoriety and public health guideline in 1998.  It has several unique connections to fat, which is reflected in its name.  Chole in Greek means bile, which consequently is the liver’s unique product to process fat.  Itis incorporated into the fat layers of the membranes of every cell in the body and is tasked with modifying membrane fats in order to give them much greater flexibility to sustain the cells.  Since it helps utilize fats in the body, it is popularly referred to as a lipotropic B vitamin.  Choline is in many different types of food, but is sensitive to the food preparation process, improper food storage.  Absorption of choline can also be disrupted by various things such as alcohol abuse and incorrect use of estrogen and antibiotic treatments.

Choline can be easily absorbed from the intestine and is one of the only vitamins that can cross the blood brain barrier into the spinal fluid to be involved in brain chemical metabolism.  It is often referred to as the “memory” vitamin since it is an important component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.  It is also important in nerve-muscle function.  Choline has been used to a degree of success in treating such neurodegenerative diseases as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s since it helps improve movement and coordination.

Sources of Choline

Choline is widely distributed in almost all living cells of different plants and animals.  Humans can synthesize choline from the amino acid glycine.   The highest amount of choline is present in lechitin, which can be obtained from soybeans.   Other good sources of choline include such things as egg yolk, brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, fish, peanuts, some leafy greens, and liver, and other organ meats.  Choline can also be obtained from peanuts, potatoes, cauliflowers, lentils, oats, sesame seeds, and flaxseeds.  There is also a strong possibility that choline is manufactured in intestinal bacteria. 


Choline, in the form of phosphatidylcholine, is a basic component of soy lechitin.  In this form, it aids in the emulsification of cholesterol and fats in the body, by forming small fat globules in the blood to to transport fats through the smaller vasculature in and out of the cells.  When choline is combined with fatty acids, glycerol, and phosphate, it is made into lechitin, which is an important part of cell membranes. 

Choline is an important part of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.  This must be available to help preserve the integrity of the electrical signals across the gaps between nerves, which help with the electrical energy flow within the nervous system.  The integrity of the myelin sheaths, which cover the nerve fibers, is also wholly dependent on choline.  Liver and gallbladder function are also assisted by choline.   Thinking capacity and memory have also been attributed to choline.

The unique chemistry of choline makes it important in the body’s detoxification system.  The vitamin has three methyls, or trimethylated.  The liver uses these methyl groups to neutralize many toxins.  Methyl groups like these are supplied by choline and also play an active role in regulating genetic activity.


There are several uses for choline.  It may be helpful in slowing down the progression of any condition with nerve conduction problems such as memory deficiency, muscle twitching, heart palpitation, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

It has also been used for different types of liver and kidney problems, such as hepatitis and cirrhosis.  Choline does this by improving transport, utilization, and emulsification of fat.  It may also help with general body detoxification by clearing the liver of excess fats.  Choline is also helpful in lowering the side effects of phenothiazine drugs, which may cause a syndrome called tardive dyskineisia, characterized by abnormal facial muscle twitching and spasms.  It probably works by increasing acetylcholine function and promoting the transmission functions at neural synapses.  Purified egg lechitin, which contains choline, has been used in the treatment of AIDS.

Other uses of choline include the treatment of headaches, insomnia, dizziness, constipation, glaucoma and other eye problems, abnormal ear noises such as tinnitus, hypoglycemia, and alcohol problems.  It may also be used to treat fatigue, with some athletes even benefitting from choline supplementation.  High cholesterol and high blood pressure, phophatidylcholine or lechitin migh be helpful in abating the progression of atherosclerosis.  Choline has been used with some benefit in stroke patients.  It seems to be effective as a fat and cholesterol emulsifier.  Supplementation has also been shown to reduce some gallstones. 


High doses of choline, somewhere between 10-15 grams, have been linked in nutrition research to vomiting, sweating, increased salivation, and unusual body odor.  These effects can be due to the choline’s nerve stimulation potential.  High doses have also been shown to aggravate epileptic conditions.  The body odor side effect can be implicated to a breakdown product of choline, trimehylamine.  Some research studies show that 5-10 grams of the vitamin is associated with blood pressure loss and faintness or dizziness.  For these reasons, the National Academy of Sciences have established a tolerable upper limit of 3.5 grams per day. 


Fatigue, insomnia, and poor ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine have been found with mild defineicy of choline.  Moderate deficiency has been indirectly linked to coronary heart disease and other heart-related problems since there is a link between choline and homocysteine.  Choline deficiency can leave too much homocysteine in the bloodstream since it needs to be converted into other substances.  When choline is depleted too much, fat metabolism and utilization may be decreased, which can lead to accumulation of fat.  The main concern could involve loss of cell membrane and myelin sheath integrity.  This could implicate nervous cell transmission throughout the body. 


Since choline is important for cellular membrane integrity, it is often supplemented at 500 mg.  The most common source of choline is soy lechithin.  One capsule of lechitin contains between 40 to 50 mg, while a tablespoon has about 500 mg. 

Therapeutic amounts of choline usually range between 500 to 1,000 mg.  Any more choline has been shown to produce side effects.  Choline is best taken with other B vitamins.  If large amounts of lechithin are taken, it is necessary to take more calcium to blance the phosphorous contained in the lechithin.  Niacin can be taken along with additional choline to decrease cholesterol levels.



  1. Alan H. Pressman and Sheila Buff.(2007). The Complete Idiot's guide to vitamins and minerals. New York : Alpha Books
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  5. Holford, P & Lawson, S.(2008). Optimum Nutrition Made Easy How to achieve optimum health. London : Piatkus
  6. Lieberman, S. & Bruning, N. (2003). The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book. New York : Avery
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  9. The National Research Council.(1989). Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th ed, National Academy of Sciences
  10. Werbach, M. (1993). Nutritional Influences on Illness. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Third Line Press

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