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B Vitamins Choline and Folate Scrutinized

By Marcia Wood
March 30, 2001

Our bodies can't make enough of the B vitamin choline if we are low in it and a second B vitamin, folate. That’s according to a study from Agricultural Research Service and university researchers, led by chemist Robert A. Jacob of ARS’ Western Human Nutrition Research Center, Davis, Calif.

The findings agree with some of the results of animal studies conducted earlier by ARS scientists at Tufts University in Boston and by other nutrition researchers elsewhere. In all, these investigations helped pave the way to the current recommended choline intake of 425 milligrams a day for women and 550 milligrams for men.

Meats, dairy products and soy foods are rich in choline. Folate is highest in orange juice, green leafy vegetables like spinach, and bread flour or other grain products fortified with this vitamin. Nuts and liver contain both nutrients.

Choline helps us absorb and use fats, and is required for making acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter needed for muscle control, memory storage and other functions. Both nutrients contain what’s known as a methyl group, which the body uses to form genetic material or DNA.

Jacob’s tests with male and female volunteers included low-folate, low-choline regimens which provided as little as 13 percent of today's recommended daily allowance of folate. No severe choline or folate deficiencies occurred during the study, but blood levels of choline decreased an average of 25 to 28 percent in men and women during the low-folate, low-choline stints. Those levels returned to at least normal when researchers provided more folate.

For details, see the current issue of the ARS monthly journal, Agricultural Research.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

Scientific contact: Through June 6, 2001, contact Robert A. Jacob at the ARS Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, Grand Forks, N.D.; phone (701) 795-8456, fax (701) 795-8230,; thereafter, at the ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center, Davis, Calif.; phone (530) 752-4726, fax (530) 752-8502,