Eating a vegetable-based diet has been shown to benefit health in many ways including enriching gut bacteria diversity, increasing plant vitamins and minerals, and loading up on fiber. However, a strictly vegan or vegetarian plant-based diet could still be missing this essential dementia-fighting nutrient: choline.
Choline is an essential building block of cell membranes both in the brain and the body. Cell membranes are the cellular command center directing cell function and communication. This vital brain nutrient helps prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s.
While choline supports the brain – which is primarily made of fat, by the way – it also supports healthy liver function which is necessary for detoxifying the body. In addition, a healthy liver keeps chronic inflammation in check. A deficiency in choline raises the incidence of fatty liver.
Choline is predominantly present in animal fat from sources like meats, fish, dairy, and eggs. Significantly smaller amounts can be found in nuts, legumes, and cruciferous vegetables.
The liver is able to manufacture a small amount, but not enough to meet the body’s requirements. This is why experts recommend getting sufficient choline from dietary sources in order to meet the brain’s needs.
Most people are choline deficient
Some people are genetically predisposed to a deficiency, but most people are not getting enough choline in their diet. In fact, research shows that, as the popularity of vegan and vegetarian diets increases, so does the rate of choline deficiency.
The recommended daily intake of choline is about 425 mg a day for women and 550 mg a day for men.
Beef liver and egg yolk are the two richest sources of choline. Studies have shown that people who consistently consume eggs have higher levels of choline (we can assume most people don’t eat liver regularly, if at all).
Pregnant women who eat at least one egg per day are eight times more likely to satisfy choline intake recommendations compared to those who don’t.
If eating liver straight sounds distasteful, beef liver capsules can be a good alternative. Most products recommend 6 capsules per day. Try to find a grass-fed source that has been tested for purity.
Choline is vital for the fetal and infant brain
The choline recommendation for pregnant and breastfeeding women is about 930 mg as choline is vital for the developing child’s brain.
Choline is vital for the adult brain
This vital nutrient protects the adult brain in several ways. First, it reduces homocysteine. If homocysteine levels are too high, it becomes a neurotoxic amino acid causing inflammation as well as doubling the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Choline prevents this by converting homocysteine into the helpful compound methionine.
In a study of mice bred to have Alzheimer’s like symptoms, a choline-rich dieted resulted in improvements in memory and brain function in the mice and their offspring.
Second, choline reduces the activation of microglia, the brain’s immune cells that, when triggered, cause inflammation and damage to brain tissue.
Third, choline is an essential component of acetylcholine, a brain chemical known as the memory neurotransmitter. Sufficient acetylcholine is vital for memory and healthy brain function.
And finally, choline helps regulate gene expression.
Choline is just one of the many essential nutrients that help support healthy brain function. Contact my office to learn more.
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