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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

New Findings About Essential Choline / June 19, 2006 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

New Findings About Essential Choline

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
June 19, 2006

A new study funded in part by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) shows that getting higher—or at least adequate—dietary levels of choline is related to lower blood levels of an amino acid called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine in the blood are a potential risk factor for heart attack, stroke, dementia, cancer and even death.

The study was conducted by epidemiologist Paul Jacques and biochemist Jacob Selhub at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Mass. They collaborated with researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, also in Boston, and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

Choline is a micronutrient that is essential for breaking down fat for energy and maintaining the structural integrity of cell membranes. Choline is also used by the body to produce acetylcholine, which is involved in nerve signaling.

The researchers examined the relationship between choline intake measured by food- frequency questionnaires and levels of homocysteine measured by blood tests among 1,960 participants in the Framingham Offspring Study. The findings were independent of factors that affect homocysteine levels such as intake of folate, vitamin B-6, alcohol and caffeine.

The study participants’ choline intake was estimated by using a new choline database produced by researchers at the ARS Nutrient Data Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., in collaboration with UNC’s choline researcher and study coauthor Stephen H. Zeisel.

Further studies are necessary, but getting adequate dietary choline may play a role in helping maintain lower blood levels of homocysteine in the body. Experts suggest that an adequate choline intake is 425 milligrams (mgs) a day for women and 550 mgs a day for men. Some good food sources include liver, bacon, beans, wheat bran and peanuts.

The choline database of more than 400 listed foods can be accessed as a PDF file.

Last Modified: 6/23/2006