• Dr Emma Derbyshire

Choline: What is It and How Much Do We Need?

What is Choline?

Choline is a micronutrient (often classed within the B vitamin family) that is produced by the liver. The amounts produced, however, are not enough to meet human physiological needs. This means that we need to obtain it from ‘external’ sources such as from the foods that we eat – hence it is referred to as “essential”.

Choline has wide-ranging roles in human health. It is involved in human metabolism, neurotransmitter synthesis, cell structure and methylation. Choline is also involved in the pathways regulating gene expression.

Choline is particularly important during development life stages.  It is actively transported to the foetus in utero, with maternal supplies correlating with cognitive outcomes.  Choline is also abundant in human breast milk and is added to formula milk as an essential ingredient indicating the high demands of choline during this life stage.

The Recommended Daily Amount for Choline

In the United States (US) and Europe, the current dietary recommendations for choline have been established as Adequate Intakes (AIs) for total choline. In 1998, the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) recognised choline as an essential nutrient and established dietary intake recommendations.

Similarly, in 2016 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) set dietary recommendations for choline. European choline recommendations have been set at 400mg per day for adults, 480mg for pregnancy and 520mg for lactation.

Unfortunately, in the UK choline is presently omitted from dietary guidelines, surveys and food composition databases. We presently do not know what choline intakes are in the UK. However, looking at American and European studies it can be seen that there is a generic tendency to under consume this nutrient.

Given the growing evidence-base in this field and seemingly important roles during pregnancy and lactation – now seems to be the time to include it with UK guidelines, surveys and databases.

References Derbyshire E (2019). Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the United Kingdom? BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health.

Wiedeman AM et al (2018). Dietary Choline Intake: Current State of Knowledge Across the Life Cycle. Nutrients 10(10).