Although the body produces a small amount of choline, humans must consume some in the diet as well to maintain good health, explains the Linus Pauling Institute, or LPI, at Oregon State University. Choline occurs in a wide variety of foods, including meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, peanuts, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. For inclusion in supplements, manufacturers combine choline with a type of salt, such as bitartrate. Consult a qualified health care provider before taking choline supplements.
Most choline in the body is located in fat molecules called phospholipids, of which the most common are phosphatidylcholines. In these, choline is linked to phosphatidic acid. The common name for this type of phospholipid is lecithin. Phosphatidylcholines are components of very low density lipoproteins that transport fat and cholesterol from the liver to other parts of the body that need them. In addition, choline is important for cell membranes and for the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which has a role in memory and muscle control.
Most people obtain enough choline in their diet for health, and deficiency only develops in unusual situations, such as in patients being fed intravenously. Purported claims for various health benefits of choline supplements are not established by research, according to Brigham and Women's Hospital. Choline bitartrate and other choline supplements are claimed to enhance athletic performance, reduce cholesterol levels, protect the liver from alcohol-related damage, lower blood pressure, control mood swings, improve memory and treat Alzheimer's disease.
Choline bitartrate supplements are available in tablets and capsules, and in powder form as well. The supplements include choline combined with bitartrate, chloride or citrate. Manufacturers combine drugs and supplements with these chemical salts and others for better absorbency.
The usual directed supplementary dose for choline is 650 mg to 2 g daily, according to Brigham and Women's Hospital. The Food and Nutrition Board of the U.S. Institute of Medicine has established the tolerable upper intake level, or UL, for choline at 3.5 g per day for adults.
In recommended doses, choline may cause side effects of stomach ache, loose stools or diarrhea. Choline dosages higher than the UL are associated with several negative effects, as noted by the LPI. These include fishy body odor, increased perspiration and salivation, dizziness, vomiting, and low blood pressure. Patients with depression, Parkinson's disease, liver or kidney disorders, or the genetic condition trimethylaminuria may not be able to safely take doses of choline around the UL level. People with bipolar disorder should not take any choline supplements.