A new study conducted at the Boston University School of Medicine suggests that the nutrient choline may improve cognitive function in healthy adults.
Choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which plays a part in memory and other cognitive functions. Low acetylcholine levels are linked with Alzheimer’s.
A group of 1391 healthy (dementia-free) adults completed a food-frequency questionnaire administered from 1991 to 1995 and at a later date from 1998 to 2001. Each adult underwent cognitive tests and brain scans (MRI) at the later date. The tests measured factors such as verbal and visual memory. The brain scan also measured white matter hyperintesity (WMHI) - changes in the brain’s blood vessels that can predict conditions such as dementia and stroke.
The researchers used the adults’ food questionnaires to determine whether dietary choline intake had an effect on brain function. The results found that adults whose choline intake was highest did better on tests of memory. Brain scans in this group of adults were also less likely to show areas of WMHI, indicating a decreased risk of dementia or stroke.
The differences in test performance were small. "As far as your day-to-day functioning, it would not be an appreciable difference," says senior researched Rhoda Au.
However, she added, the findings suggest that people with lower choline intakes were more likely to be on a “pathway” toward mental decline than their counterparts with higher intakes.
We cannot yet say for certain that choline in itself protects memory or wards off unhealthy brain changes. One possibility, Au noted, is that some other nutrients present along with choline are responsible. The study took into account factors such as calorie intake, fat intake, and levels of nutrients such as Vitamins B6 and B12. Even after adjustments were made for these factors, choline was still linked to improved test performance. However, further human studies would be needed to back up these research finding.
It is generally recommended that men require 550 milligrams of choline per day, while women should get 425 milligrams. Several studies have found that generally choline intake in adults does not meet these requirements (2,3).
To ensure an adequate supply of choline, you should ensure that your daily diet includes sources of choline such as saltwater fish, eggs, liver, chicken, beef, peanut butter, milk, broccoli and certain legumes, including soy and kidney beans. The supplement soy lecithin is also a good source.
References 1.Poly C, Massaro JM, Seshadri S, Wolf PA, Cho E, Krall E, Jacques PF, Au R. The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort Am J Clin Nutr December 2011 vol. 94 no. 6 1584-15912.Bidulescu A, Chambless LE, Siega-Riz AM, Zeisel SH, Heiss G (2009). "Repeatability and measurement error in the assessment of choline and betaine dietary intake: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study". Nutrition Journal 8 (1): 14.3.Bidulescu A, Chambless LE, Siega-Riz AM, Zeisel SH, Heiss G. Usual choline and betaine dietary intake and incident coronary heart disease: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. BMC Cardiovascular Disorders 2007, 7:20