Biohacker’s Primer of Choline

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brainwhiteWhy would the performance-seeking crowd of biohackers care for a little known nutrient by the name of choline?

Are there any cognitive benefits to be had from ingesting higher than average choline?


What is Choline?

Choline is part of the B-Vitamin group which is critical to the integrity of healthy cell membranes and plays a vital role in preventing liver disease and atherosclerosis [1]. More than that, choline is possibly at its most powerful when it comes to preventing neurological disorders and enhancing cognition. In 1998, the Institute of Medicine finally recognised the dietary importance of choline and deemed it an essential nutrient.


Essential for Brain Development

Ever since then, multiple studies have shown how choline has a tremendous effect on normal brain development and memory retention. In particular, baby rats that were given choline supplements in the uterus and during the second week of life, showed a substantial change of brain function, resulting in lifelong memory enhancement [2]. What’s more astonishing is that researchers could later identify the group of rats whose mothers were given extra choline.

Every pregnant woman should know about the importance of choline because pregnancy and lactation deplete choline the most. Enough choline in a mother’s diet has also been shown to lead to the full development of the hippocampus – a brain region responsible for the consolidation of long-term memory [3]. In addition, brain development of a baby is at its highest during the first five years of life. During this time, the demand for choline is particularly high because it helps in the myelination (i.e. insulation) of the nerve fibres of a neuron.

For us males who will never have to go through pregnancy, ingesting enough choline should still be a priority if we are looking to get that long-term cognitive edge.


How does Choline Improve Brain Function?

Brain-Synapse-WallpaperThe neurons inside your brain wouldn’t fire and muscle control wouldn’t function properly if you didn’t have enough choline as a precursor to produce acetylcholine – a neurotransmitter that is essential to the integrity of the central nervous system. Without acetylcholine there would be no communication between your neurons.

More critically, acetylcholine is the communicator at the so-called “neuromuscular junction”. This junction connects the neuron (i.e. motorneuron) with muscle fibers all over the body. When a neuron wants to transmit an impulse and innervate a muscle, acetylcholine acts as the communicator between the two. Because choline is the building block of acetylcholine, you better be having enough of it in your body for your neural transmission to be fast and efficient.

A study with rats revealed that an increased dietary amount of choline is directly involved in attention and memory processes and helps modulate them [4]. Also, it has been shown that mice who were given a combination of choline and Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA) performed better in cognitive tests than mice not given the combination [5]. It has also been suggested that choline may be play a role in preventing neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s [6].


Choline-Rich Foods & Supplementation

Nobody should be choline-deficient if you want to have a well developed high-functioning brain. What are the some of the most potent choline sources out there?

First off, from a dietary perspective nothing trumps the nutrients found in an animal’s liver. In particular, beef liver not only provides absurd amounts of Vitamin A, B12, copper but is the food source boasting the highest concentration of choline per gram. You will get an astounding 418 mg in 100 g beef liver [7]. Bear in mind that the Adequate Intake Level for an adult male is 550 mg/day. It is fair to assume that most people are likely choline-deficient because the idea of eating liver is usually accompanied with disgust.

I personally like the taste of beef liver and have it at least once a week to get that nutrient bomb. You may consider chicken liver. It has a less offensive taste and still provides 290 mg choline per 100 g. If you can’t get over the taste of liver at all, you may think about supplementing with beef liver capsules. The capsules are usually made of freeze-dried liver from grass-fed Argentinian cows and are really cheap to get by. You will get all the vitamins and minerals contained in beef liver minus the eating part.

Choline Bomb

Choline Bomb

If you don’t like the idea of eating or supplementing with liver, just stick to eggs. The yolk of a large hard-boiled egg is a true choline powerhouse giving your body 113 mg of the stuff. Eggs are cheap and 5 eggs/day to achieve the adequate level of choline is an easy hack. Also, you shouldn’t be worried about the saturated fat in the egg yolks – saturated fat is also vital for proper brain functioning and the production of testosterone.

Lastly, if you are not willing to adopt a nutrient-dense diet, you may think about choline supplements. Especially pregnant women and hard charging athletes may benefit from extra choline. Prolonged activity, as seen in endurance athletes, leads to a substantial drop of acetylcholine (and therefore choline). Runners and basketball players have been shown to improve their performance while being less fatigued and more vigorous after supplementing with choline prior to training.

From a nootropic perspective, choline is an ideal candidate to be used inside a smart drug. Research has shown that memory, intelligence, and mood are mediated in part by the metabolism of acetylcholine [8]. Acetylcholine cannot exist without choline.


Take Away Points

  • Choline is a B-vitamin which can prevent liver disease, atherosclerosis, neurological disorders

  • Choline vital for full brain development of a child

  • Choline improves cognitive function and long- term memory

  • Adequate Daily Intake: 550 mg/day for a male adult

  • Choline-rich foods: Beef & chicken liver, egg yolks

Whether you are a college student, a cognitively challenged business person or an avid biohacker, having a intake of choline must be a priority. Whether you get in your diet or take choline supplements is totally up to you. I like the former. However, if you are looking for that short-term extra boost of brain power, a nootropic with acetylcholine is the way to go.

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