Frequent readers of this site know that throughout the years I’ve shared piles of evidence linking a healthy, nutrient-rich diet with optimal brain function.
But I recently discovered there’s one nutrient that we all seem to be lacking and this deficiency inflicts terrible damage to our brains…
This is not an instance of a “nice-to-have” nutrient that gives your brain a little extra boost.
This is something you need to live and thrive.
According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data,1 90 percent of Americans aren’t getting enough of an essential brain-protecting nutrient called choline.
A must for brain health, the Institute of Medicine recommends 550 mg of choline per day. You have to get most of that from animal sources; plants simply don’t contain much.
Eggs are one of the richest sources. One large egg boasts about 147 mg of choline. So it’s not surprising many of us are deficient. Even three eggs a day does not provide you enough choline. And, of course, these days many people don’t eat eggs at all.
In fact, the widespread advice to go vegan may be a problem when it comes to this vitamin, as well as some other animal-sourced nutrients such as B12. Plant-based diets aren’t doing us any favors when it comes to our choline quotas, though certain legumes and veggies, such as broccoli, can help.
Emma Derbyshire, BSc, PhD, author of one such study2 says our bodies don’t produce enough choline on their own. She states that “choline can be likened to omega-3 fatty acids in that it is an ‘essential’ nutrient that needs to be obtained from dietary or supplemental sources, as the body doesn’t produce enough to meet human requirements.”
Scientists know that sufficient choline intake is critical in decreasing the risk of a variety of health problems. However, the most exciting choline research focuses on conditions that affect the brain, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Your Brain Almost Certainly Needs More Choline…
Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine3 found choline is closely linked to better cognitive function. In the 2011 study, scientists discovered that folks who get enough choline in their diets perform better in memory tasks.
What’s more, participants with choline-rich diets were less likely to show brain changes associated with dementia.
Is this finally the magic bullet for the tragic Alzheimer’s epidemic? Not quite. But it’s worth unpacking the promising research…
First the research team dug into data from the long-running Framingham Heart Study. In the study, nearly 1,400 people ages 36 to 83 answered dietary questionnaires between 1991 and 1995. Fast forward to 1998 through 2001, and these same people took memory and cognitive ability tests, as well as MRI brain scans.
Generally speaking, men and women in the top quarter of choline intake performed better in memory tests than those in the bottom 25 percent.
And researchers found something else interesting about these findings…
It appears that people with lower choline intakes were more apt to be on a pathway toward cognitive decline than their peers with higher choline intakes.
The scientists were also intrigued by the participants’ MRI scans. Those with higher choline intake at the beginning of the study later displayed less “white matter hyperintensity” in their MRIs. Why is this important? Scientists believe areas of the brain that experience hyperintensity may be suffering from vascular– or blood vessel– disease.This can signal a heightened risk of stroke, and dementia.
Benefits the Next Generation, Too
In a 2019 study,4 Arizona State University scientists focused on mice bred to display Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. Results showed that when these mice were given high choline in their diet, their offspring showed improvements in spatial memory, compared with those receiving a normal choline regimen in the womb.
The interesting part of these findings is that the beneficial effects of choline supplementation seem to be transgenerational. This means that it’s not only protecting mice receiving choline supplementation during gestation, but also subsequent offspring.
I can give you many more reasons why this brain-protecting nutrient is garnering scientists’ attention.
One is the fact that choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.5 This important neurotransmitter maintains neurons in specific neural networks of the brain that are important for memory.
Another of choline’s attributes is that it reduces homocysteine. This amino acid is believed to contribute to the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease: neurodegeneration and amyloid plaque formation.
And finally, there is evidence4 that choline supplementation reduces the activation of microglia – the cells tasked with clearing away debris in the brain. These cellular housekeepers are essential for brain health, but they can get out of control, causing inflammation, as they typically do with Alzheimer’s. Scientists conclude that choline supplementation may offer protection against dementia.
I believe choline is a safe and potentially brain-protecting supplement and I look forward to future research.