Our Need for Choline; Reconsider the Egg

Choline is a critical nutrient for our health, but many people are deficient in it. It might just be time to reconsider eggs, a natural source of choline, in our diets.

— Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.

Choline doesn’t get a lot of press, but just like the nutrients, we hear a lot about (vitamin C, iron, and folic acid) it is vitally important to our health. Essential for helping to maintain memory, cognition and muscle control, fend off fatty liver disease, and ensuring proper development in the womb, our need for choline begins even before we are born.

Choline and Pregnancy

Studies suggest that choline may be a very important partner for folic acid (another nutrient essential in prenatal nutrition) in reducing the risk of birth defects, such as spina bifida. Both folic acid and choline are important for the closure of the neural tube during the early weeks of pregnancy, setting the stage for the proper development of the spinal cord and brain.

Choline, like omega 3 fatty acids, also appears to give the brain a boost during the third trimester of pregnancy, enhancing the ability of the child to learn and retain information. But when it comes to choline in pregnancy, the area that intrigues me the most is the possibility that this nutrient helps protect the baby from maternal stress, actually changing the expression of epigenetic markers associated with the regulation of stress hormones in the developing baby. When babies are subjected to high maternal levels of stress hormones, it can increase the risk of preterm birth and likelihood of depression, anxiety, hypertension, and diabetes later in the child’s life. While it is too soon to know for certain, ensuring adequate choline intake during pregnancy may offer the child a lifelong edge against stress driven disorders. Unfortunately, studies show that many pregnant women do not meet the RDA of 450 mg per day of choline. And if you are breastfeeding your baby, the RDA is 550 mg per day!

Choline and Liver Health

Our dependence on choline, however, is really just getting started after we are ushered into the world. Once the fats and cholesterol we’ve consumed in our diet have made their way to the liver, they get repackaged in the form of very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) and carried off to other parts of the body for use. However, choline is needed to produce VLDL. Without adequate choline, fats build up in the liver, leading to a condition known as the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD. It is estimated that roughly 1 in 5 American adults have NAFLD, which can lead to cirrhosis and even liver cancer. Treatment is possible but your best bet for liver health is definitely prevention.

Where to Find Choline

So where to get this relatively unknown yet vital micronutrient? Fortunately, choline is surprisingly easy to add to the diet. Specifically beef, wheat germ, scallops, salmon, chicken, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, peanuts, and milk all contain choline, but the goldmine source is eggs, which contain a choline-rich yolk center. Many of you know I raise my own chickens and I love enjoying their free-range, omega 3-rich eggs. One whole egg contains about 30-40% of the recommended daily intake of 425mg of choline per day for adult women, and there is as much choline in one egg as there is in a whole pound of cauliflower! Famous for being on the “on this list, off the list” health guidance, in my opinion, the egg has gotten a bad rap. Knowing what we know about choline’s lifelong benefits for our bodies, I think it’s time we put eggs back on the menu.

References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19593156 http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/choline FASEB J. 2012 Aug; 26(8):3563-74. Lazo M, et al. Am J Epidemiol 2013; 178(1):38-45.

Comment:

From Harvard School of Public Health, “A solid body of research shows that for most people, cholesterol in food has a much smaller effect on blood levels of total cholesterol and harmful LDL cholesterol than does the mix of fats in the diet. Recent research has shown that moderate egg consumption—up to one a day—does not increase heart disease risk in healthy individuals and can be part of a healthy diet.” And the US government is considering dropping its recommendation to limit cholesterol in the diet, as many other European countries have. I would say that the jury is not completely in when it comes to those who already have established heart disease and diabetes. If you fall into one of those categories, it still might be wise to limit egg yolks to 3-4 per week.

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