Your brain maintains a complex neural communication system thanks to chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. Nutrients in your diet help your body produce neurotransmitters. Acetylcholine and glutamate are your brain's primary excitatory neurotransmitters; this means they induce excitement in your neurons, the cells that transmit information through electrical signals. Choline is the primary nutrient you need to make acetylcholine. Consult your doctor before altering your diet or supplementing this nutrient.
Nobel prizewinning pharmacologist Otto Loewi discovered the significance of acetylcholine in 1921, about eight years after it was first isolated. Acetylcholine is found in your brain and nervous system. It stimulates your muscles and is needed for optimal brain functioning. Damage to cholinergic pathways is linked to the acetylcholine depletion associated with Alzheimer's disease, which is a condition that causes a gradual loss of brain function.
Acetylcholine is made from choline and acetate, an acetic acid derivative. A choline-rich diet provides your body with the building blocks needed to manufacture acetylcholine. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture food database, whole eggs provide the most choline per 100 grams of food. Other foods high in choline include meats and fish, followed by whole grains. Other choline sources include vegetables, fruits, milk and milk products. Fats and oils provide the least amount of choline.
According to an animal study conducted by the University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute and published in the July 2010 issue of "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," maternal dietary choline deficiency leads to birth defects and decreased fetal blood vessel formation. Lead researcher Steven Zeisel estimates that about 80 percent of pregnant women are not getting enough choline in their diet. Zeisel recommends pregnant and nonpregnant men and women get 425 to 550 milligrams per day through animal products such as eggs, beef, chicken and milk.
Choline is available as a dietary supplement. It helps promote healthy acetylcholine levels important for healthy cell signaling and nerve impulses. Recommended choline doses are not associated with adverse health effects. However, high doses of 10 to 16 grams per day can cause vomiting, excess sweating and a fishy body odor, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Take choline supplements only under the direction of your doctor.
- "Neuropsychopharmacology: The Fifth Generation of Progress"; Acetylcholine; Marina R. Picciotto et al.; 2002
- ", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences"; Maternal Dietary Choline Deficiency Alters Angiogenesis in Fetal Mouse Hippocampus; Steven H. Zeisel et al.; July 2010
- "Advances in Nutrition"; Choline; Steven H. Zeisel; November 2010
- Linus Pauling Institute: Choline