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Home > Supplement Categories > Vitamins > Choline
Exploring the Benefits and Side Effects of Calcium

Benefits and Side Effects of Choline

What is Choline?

Choline is an essential nutrient that is included in the group of B-vitamins. Strictly speaking, it is not a vitamin, since it is produced in small amounts within the body, whereas vitamins are substances that are not synthesized in the body. However, in 1998, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recognized it as a nutrient that must be obtained from the diet to maintain health.

Most of the choline found in the body is contained in fat molecules called phospholipids, most of which are called lecitihin or phosphatidylcholine. These molecules are important as structural components of cell membranes.

Choline is also a precursor (a compound that reacts with another compound to form another substance) for acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in memory, muscle control, and other functions. It also participates in the transport and metabolism of fat, as well as in cell-signaling and in preventing inflammation.

Choline Food Sources

Egg yolks are best known to be a rich source of choline. Milk, liver, soybeans and peanuts are also very rich sources of phosphatidylcholine (lecithin), which contains about 13 percent choline. Other food sources include bananas, butter, cauliflower, legumes, flax seeds, sesame seeds, oranges, potatoes, tomatoes, and whole grain cereals like barley, oats, corn, and whole wheat. Processed foods may contain lecithin, which may add to one's daily consumption of choline.

Choline Benefits

Choline plays a major role in many bodily functions. The following are the benefits of choline:

As part of the structural components of all cell membranes, it is essential for cellular structure, tissue growth and tissue repair.


  • It facilitates transport of nutrients into the cell and the passage of waste products out of the cell.
  • It plays an important role in various brain functions, as a component of a brain chemical called acetylcholine.
  • It participates in cell-signaling between nerves and muscles, which controls movements.
  • It helps regulate gallbladder function.
  • It helps regulate liver function, prevents liver damage and supports liver repair.
  • It facilitates the transport and metabolism of cholesterol and fat.
  • It helps prevent the accumulation of homocysteine, a substance associated with heart disease.
  • Studies suggest that a diet rich in choline can help reverse liver damage, reduce the risk for breast cancer, and reduce chronic inflammation associated with diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and other conditions.


Choline Side Effects

According to national surveys, it is estimated that adults consume an average of 730 to 1,040 mg of choline per day from their regular diet. This amount is way below the upper intake level (UL) for adults established by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the Institute of Medicine, which is considered tolerable, at 3.5 grams per day. However, overdosing from taking high doses of choline vitamin supplements (10 to 16 grams/day) may cause side effects such as abdominal discomfort, increased salivation, nausea , vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, feeling faint, low blood pressure, sweating, depression, and unusual body odor.

The fishy odor is a result of excessive production of a metabolite called trimethylamine. However, taking large doses of lecithin does not lead to body odor, since very little trimethylamine is produced. Large doses of choline supplements taken in the form of choline magnesium trisalicylate may result in impairment of liver function, itching, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears), which may be related to salicylate toxicity.

Choline Supplementation

A healthy, balanced diet that includes a variety of protein, fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy products often supplies an adequate amount of choline daily. However, individuals who are not able to consume adequate amounts of nutrients because of certain health conditions or lifestyle habits may be at risk for choline deficiency. These include vegans and vegetarians, people with liver disease, patients who have undergone intestinal bypass surgery or kidney transplant, alcoholics, endurance athletes, and people who consume too much refined sugar and nicotinic acid. Chronic choline deficiency may cause impairment of fat metabolism and transport, fatty liver disease, increased blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, heart disease, nerve degeneration, anemia, kidney disease, infertility and impaired brain function.

Symptoms may include fatigue, insomnia, memory problems, and poor growth in children.

Choline supplements or multivitamin preparations containing choline and inositol are therefore useful in maintaining health in these individuals. Both inositol and choline belong to the B-complex vitamins, which are usually present in multivitamin preparations. Individual choline supplements may come in the form of choline salts, such as choline bitartrate and choline chloride. Other sources include phosphatidylcholine supplements and commercial lecithin supplements that contain 20 to 90% phosphatidylcholine.

Some researchers have found that many people are not taking enough choline in their diet. Furthermore, evidence suggests that as much as half of the population carries genetic variations that necessitates greater choline intake. However, research shows that current choline supplement recommendations may be inadequate or suboptimal for many people, including pregnant women and elderly individuals. To promote optimal health, increased awareness of adequate nutrient intake and choline supplementation is needed.

Choline Dosage

The daily Adequate Intake (AI) of choline set by the Food & Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine to prevent choline deficiency is as follows:

Life Stage | Gender

Choline Dosage mg /day

Infant 0-6 months


Infant 7-12 months


Child 1-3 yrs


Child 4-8 yrs


Child 9-13 Yrs


Males 14-18 Yrs


Males 19 and above


Females 14-18 Yrs


Females 19 and above


Pregnant Women


Lactating Mothers


Therapeutic dosages may be increased as necessary under close supervision by a healthcare professional, but choline toxicity levels must be considered. The Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs) for choline as set by the Food and Nutrition Board is as follows:

Life Stage

Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL)


0 to 12 months

Not determined

1 to 8 years


9 to 13 years


14 to 18 years


19 years and above


Taking choline supplements above these dosages increases one's risk of choline side effects.


Linus Pauling Institute. Choline.

Health Supplements Nutrition Guide. Choline.

Zeisel S and da Costa KA. Choline: An Essential Nutrient for
Public Health. Nutr Rev. 2009; 67 (11): 615-623.


This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.

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