Choline is an essential nutrient that plays a critical role in several key functions of the human body, including maintaining cell membrane integrity, lipid metabolism, and nervous system function. This article will explore the connection between choline and liver function, the nervous system, and DNA methylation.
The article will also examine the consequences of choline deficiency and how it can lead to serious health conditions, such as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and liver cancer. Understanding the significance of choline in the human body is critical in maintaining good health and preventing adverse health outcomes.
Choline, What Is it?
Choline is an essential nutrient found in various choline-rich foods including beef liver, eggs, and soybean (lecithin). Our body makes a little bit of it, but generally, and for optimal health, it’s vital that we consume a diet with adequate sources of it.
Choline is crucial for many key functions including maintaining cell membrane integrity, neurotransmitter production, nervous system function, gene expression, methylation, cell membrane signalling, and lipid transport and metabolism. It is also a very essential molecule when it comes to early brain development in infants and decreases the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus .
Choline & Liver Function
Choline’s importance in liver function goes beyond just aiding in fat metabolism. In fact, choline deficiency is not only associated with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) but also with the development of liver damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption, known as alcoholic liver disease (ALD).
This is because choline is required for the production of phosphatidylcholine, a vital component of cell membranes, which is depleted by chronic alcohol consumption. The lack of phosphatidylcholine results in the accumulation of fats in the liver, leading to liver damage and dysfunction. Additionally, alcohol consumption can also lead to the inhibition of VLDL production, further exacerbating the problem of fat accumulation in the liver .
This is why looking after our diet is essential during early sobriety – I write more about some other key nutrients in my article Nutrition in Addiction Recovery: Understanding Key Nutrients in Early Sobriety
Choline & Our Nervous System
Choline is a crucial nutrient in the body for synthesizing phospholipid components, which are precursors for messenger molecules that allow for healthy cell signaling throughout the body. Phosphatidylcholine is one of the most important phospholipids, involved in maintaining healthy cell membranes, while sphingomyelin is a type of phospholipid found in the protective fatty sheath of our nerves, known as myelin. Myelin is critical for the proper functioning of our central nervous system, including nerve impulse and nerve conduction.
Insufficient choline intake can affect the synthesis of these important phospholipids, leading to impaired nerve function and potentially addiction. In fact, research has shown that choline supplementation may have a role in reducing drug-seeking behavior in animal models of addiction . Therefore, ensuring adequate choline intake may be an important consideration for maintaining healthy nerve function and potentially reducing the risk of addiction.
Choline & Mood
Phosphatidylcholine is a vital component in choline synthesis, and it constitutes about 95% of total choline in our body. This phospholipid is necessary for the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which plays a vital role in cognitive functions such as learning, memory, and attention, as well as digestive enzyme production and parasympathetic nervous system regulation.
Reduced acetylcholine levels have been linked to an increased risk of addiction. Insufficient choline intake may lead to impaired acetylcholine synthesis, resulting in symptoms such as memory loss, irritability, and sleep disturbances .
Mood is an important factor when it comes to addiction, and something else that has shown to help is Creatine, read more in my article Creatine: Could This Widely Used Sports Supplement Be Used to Curb Addiction?
Choline & DNA
Phosphatidylcholine is involved in DNA methylation, a process that regulates protein function and gene expression. This helps to maintain optimal regulation of various systems, including neurotransmitter production, detoxification, and cellular energy. DNA methylation is also linked to addiction, with research suggesting that alterations in DNA methylation may contribute to the development and persistence of addiction .
Choline deficiency can result from various factors, including inadequate dietary intake and genetic variability, and can lead to various health issues. While our body can synthesize some choline, it may not be enough to meet our bodily needs, and we must obtain it from dietary sources or supplements.
Moreover, choline’s methylation function can be compromised in the absence of adequate intake of vitamin B12 and folate, which are interrelated in various methylation processes. Individuals with a history of substance use disorder are more likely to be deficient in these vital nutrients and experience inhibited DNA methylation, which may increase the risk of addiction .
So how do we know when we’re deficient?
Choline deficiency can lead to a variety of negative health consequences, including liver and muscle damage, cognitive impairment, and an increased risk of chronic disease. Some common symptoms of choline deficiency include fatigue, muscle aches, and memory problems. Research has also suggested a link between choline deficiency and a higher risk of addiction.
Animal studies have found that choline supplementation can reduce drug-seeking behaviour, while human studies have shown that individuals with lower choline levels may be more vulnerable to developing an addiction. Ensuring adequate choline intake may be an important consideration for maintaining overall health and reducing the risk of addiction.
Recommended Choline Intake & Sources
250 – 500mg daily appears to be the sweet spot for Choline intake, and this equates to approximately 2 large eggs daily (approx. 150mg per large chicken egg).
Other great sources include Beef Liver (356mg – 100g), Beef (117mg – 100g), Soybean Lecithin (107mg – 1/2 cup), Chicken breast (72mg – 100g), Cod (71mg – 100g).
I recommend finding a good Liver Capsule Supplement, such as Ancestral Nutrition Beef Liver Multi Caps. These are also packed with a ton of other essential nutrients.
If you have any feedback regarding this article, reach out. Help Clarity reach more people and quit addiction by following us on Instagram, it’s also the perfect place to message us and ask questions!
All the best in health,
Former Drinker & Clinical Nutritionist
- Wijayawardena, Bhagya, et al. “Role of Choline and Its Metabolites in Brain Function and Behavior.” Nutrients, vol. 13, no. 1, 2021, p. 97
- Pascual, Maria, et al. “Choline supplementation reduces cocaine seeking by modulating dopamine signaling in the ventral tegmental area.” Addiction Biology, vol. 25, no. 4, 2020, e12832.
- Blusztajn, J. K., Slack, B. E., & Mellott, T. J. (2017). Neuroprotective Actions of Dietary Choline. Nutrients, 9(8), 815. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9080815
- Jangra A, Dwivedi S, Sriram CS, Gurjar SS, Kwatra M, et al. (2019) Role of DNA methylation in drug addiction: A systematic review. Front Cell Neurosci 13: 384.
- Crabb DW, Matsumoto M, Chang D, You M. Overview of the role of alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase and their variants in the genesis of alcohol-related pathology. Proc Nutr Soc. 2004 May;63(2):49-63.
- Wurtman, R. J. (2017). Choline: The underconsumed and underappreciated essential nutrient. Nutr Today, 52(6), 241-246.
Former drinker, Nutritionist, Biohacking enthusiast, self-experimenter, research fanatic, and self-taught writer, Stephen immerses himself deep into the literature of human optimisation and better understand the nature of addiction. His goal is to help people take control of their addiction, reset their cravings, unscramble their broken brain circuitry and use actionable strategies that work ten times better than anything else.