Choline is an essential nutrient. It helps keep the cells and nerves working normally. While choline is important for good health, most people seem to get enough from food.

Why do people take choline?

Getting very low levels of choline can cause liver damage. But most people get enough choline in their diets. People who get nutrition by IV (because of other diseases) are at risk for developing a liver problem called fatty liver. Although the scientific evidence is scanty, choline supplementation is used for liver disease, neurological diseases, bodybuilding, and as a supplement in infant formula.

Other research has shown that pregnant women who take choline supplements might have a lower risk of having children with severe birth defects. However, we need more research to know for sure.

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So far, studies have not found that choline helps with other conditions. These include Alzheimer's disease and other memory problems, sports performance, and schizophrenia.

The Institute of Medicine says that adult women need 425 mg of choline a day in their diets for good health, and more if they're pregnant (450 mg) or breastfeeding (550 mg.) Adult men need 550 mg a day. As a supplement, there's no standard dose for choline. Ask your health care provider for advice.

Can you get choline naturally from foods?

Choline is found in many foods, including meat, liver, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, peas, spinach, and others. Vegans may have a higher risk of low choline levels.

What are the risks?

Tell your doctor about any supplements you’re taking, even if they’re natural. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with medications.

  • Side effects. These may include sweating, upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea. Choline may also make you smell "fishy." Experts don't recommend doses over 3.5 grams daily for adults.
  • Risks. One study found that people who got very high amounts of choline in their diets had a higher risk of colorectal cancer. But the connection isn't clear.
  • Interactions. If you take any medicines regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using choline supplements. They could interact with drugs like methotrexate, which helps some people with cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis.

Supplements are not regulated by the FDA the same way that medicines are. They are treated as foods and do not have to prove that they are safe or effective before being sold on the market.

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