The Key Nutrient You Probably Don’t Get Enough Of
By George Citroner
- Choline is a vital nutrient found in eggs, meat, and dairy products.
- But researchers find many people aren't getting enough of the nutrient.
- Vegans and vegetarians have more risk for lower choline levels, but experts say people can take steps to supplement their diet.
Despite decades of diet advice, new research finds we still might not get enough key nutrients.
One nutrient many of us are missing out on? Choline.
Present in eggs, dairy, and meat, choline was recognizedTrusted Source by the Institute of Medicine as an essential nutrient in 1998.
For the last 21 years, the institute has recommended daily choline intake of 550 milligrams (mg) per day for men and 425 mg per day for women, increasing to 450 mg during pregnancy and 550 mg for women who breastfeed.
That amount of choline intake doesn't seem like it would be too difficult, considering that one hard-boiled egg has about 113 mg of choline.
But according to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, 90 percent of children (but not infants), pregnant women, and adults aren't getting enough.
Essential for Health
According to the National Institutes of Health, choline is an essential nutrient found in many foods. The brain and nervous system use it to regulate functions that include memory, mood, and muscle control. Choline is also needed to form the membranes that surround your body's cells.
Although the body produces some choline in the liver, most of the choline we need comes from the food we eat.
Choline is naturally found in egg yolks, fish (like salmon), meat, and dairy. The best source is eggs. One large egg can provide 25 percent of a pregnant woman's daily choline needs and more than half the choline required for 4- to 8-year-old children.
A discussion paper published Thursday in BMJ addresses why the move to plant-based diets has worsened this problem, placing unborn children at risk.
"Choline is transported to the fetus in utero. It's an important nutrient because it's involved in the development of the brain and spinal cord. Shortfalls could impact the cognitive development of children after they're born," Emma Derbyshire, BSc, PhD, RNutr, and author of the paper, told Healthline.
She emphasizes that the body doesn't produce enough choline on its own.
"The concept that the body will adapt is somewhat of a myth," Derbyshire said. "Choline can be likened to omega-3 fatty acids in that it is an 'essential' nutrient that needs to be obtained from dietary or supplemental sources, as the body doesn't produce enough to meet human requirements."
Recent research Trusted Source finds less than 9 percent of pregnant women meet the minimum daily requirement.
Dr. Praveen S. Goday, CNSC, FAAP, professor pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at the Medical College of Wisconsin, points out that the nutrient is key not just for in utero brain development, but as a newborn becomes a toddler as well.
"At the present time, the American Academy of Pediatrics has included choline among the critical nutrients that support brain growth in the first 1,000 days of a child's life. In other words, life in utero plus the first 2 years of life," Goday said.
He cautioned, "There is a concern that failure to provide key nutrients such as choline during this critical period of brain development may result in lifelong deficits in brain function despite subsequent nutrient repletion."
Cholesterol Fears and Eggs
The dropping rates of choline intake may be linked to the fight against cholesterol.
In the 1970s, the American Heart Association began recommending Trusted Source Americans reduce their intake of dietary cholesterol to less than 300 mg per day and no more than three eggs per week.
This advice drastically reduced choline intake, since the foods people avoided to reduce cholesterol levels were also the best sources of this critical nutrient: eggs, dairy, and meat.
Today, that advice has been somewhat reversed. Eggs, alongside healthy meats and some dairy products, are no longer looked as a harbinger of skyrocketing cholesterol.
But many people still aren't eating enough of these foods to get to the recommended choline intake.
Vegans and vegetarians who avoid fish and dairy products are particularly at risk.
While vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, wheat germ, peanuts, and many varieties of beans have some choline, it's difficult — though not impossible — to eat enough of these foods to meet our minimum daily requirement.
Half a cup of broccoli has just over 31 mg of choline.
"The general population should think about whether they are obtaining some of the major dietary choline providers, such as meat, milk, and eggs. If these are not being consumed, then supplementation strategies will be required," Derbyshire said.
"This becomes particularly important at key life stages, such as pregnancy and postpartum if breastfeeding, when choline is critical to fetal and infant development," she added.
Goday says older children can stay on a vegan diet as long as care is taken to ensure they get nutrients that might be missed if they avoid animal products.
"Children and adults who are vegans need some form of supplemental vitamins, particularly vitamin B-12 and potentially others, and may also need supplemental minerals," Goday said.
He points out that infants may be at particular risk.
"Additionally, choline is not a common ingredient in most infant vitamin preparations, although it is an ingredient in some pediatric and prenatal vitamins," Goday said.
Choline and Alzheimer’s Risk
The nutrient is associated with decreased risk of a variety of health issues, especially conditions that can affect the brain.
Choline protects against age-related cognitive decline. Sufficient choline in the brain will preserve neurons, brain size, and neural networks to prevent memory loss in aging brains.
Research Trusted Source shows that brain abnormalities seen in people with dementia and Alzheimer's can be linked in part to choline deficiency.
A 2011 study Trusted Source from Boston University School of Medicine found higher choline intake was strongly associated with better cognitive function. It even prevented deterioration of the brain in senior citizens.
One reason is that choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine Trusted Source.
This neurotransmitter is responsible for maintaining neurons in certain neural networks of the brain. These networks are important for memory. They rely mostly on dietary choline to function properly.
Additionally, drugs called anticholinergics have been associated Trusted Source with an increased risk of Alzheimer's because they reduce acetylcholine in the brain.
Dr. James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said in a statement that choline levels are so important that drugs that can negatively affect choline should be avoided for older people.
"Current guidelines for doctors say that anticholinergic drugs should be avoided for frail older people because of their impact on memory and thinking," Pickett said.
"But doctors should consider these new findings for all middle aged and older people as we continue to learn more about long-term use and the risk of dementia," he said.
The Bottom Line
Choline is an essential nutrient for many bodily functions, especially brain health. But up to 90 percent of Americans are choline-deficient.
According to experts, this can be due to both recommendations made by the American Heart Association in the '70s and a general move toward plant-based diets.
Choline deficiency can have serious consequences for cognitive health from before birth to old age.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
In Major Win for Indigenous Rights, Supreme Court Rules Much of Eastern Oklahoma Is Still a Reservation
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
- Federal Judge Orders Trump Admin to Give Native Americans Their ... ›
- Police Were Ready to Shoot Indigenous Pipeline Protesters in ... ›
- Climate Justice, Indigenous Rights Advocates Rally for Wet'suwet'en ... ›
By Tiffany Means
Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.
- Airborne Coronavirus Transmission Must Be Taken Seriously, 239 ... ›
- Trump Halts WHO Funding Amidst Criticism of His Own Coronavirus ... ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Is the New Coronavirus Airborne? A Study From China Finds Evidence ›
By Angela Nicoletti
The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.
- Global Frog Pandemic May Become Even Deadlier as Strains ... ›
- New Species of Diamond Frog Discovered in Remote Pocket of ... ›
- Frogs Are on the Verge of Mass Extinction, Scientists Say - EcoWatch ›
A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.
- Trump Admin Denies Endangered Species Protections to Pacific ... ›
- Trump Admin Failed to Protect 241 Species From Extinction ... ›
- New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction ... ›
By Julia Vergin
It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
- 8 Ways to Tell if You Are Vitamin D Deficient - EcoWatch ›
- 7 Healthy Foods That Are High in Vitamin D - EcoWatch ›
- 7 Nutrient Deficiencies That Are Incredibly Common ›
Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.
EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.
Climate models are predicting faster warming of the North Atlantic Ocean, which will shift the Gulf Stream. NASA
- Could the Climate Crisis Spell the End for Maine Lobster? - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Reasons Why Biodiversity Matters - EcoWatch ›
- World Leaders, Media Ignore Biodiversity Report Detailing Mass ... ›
- The Top 10 Ocean Biodiversity Hotspots to Protect - EcoWatch ›