Choline is an organic compound, classified as a water-soluble essential nutrient and usually grouped within the Vitamin B complex. This natural amine is found in the lipids that make up cell membranes and in the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Adequate intakes (AI) for this micronutrient of between 425 to 550 milligrams daily, for adults, have been established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.
Choline and its metabolites are needed for three main physiological purposes: structural integrity and signaling roles for cell membranes, cholinergic neurotransmission (acetylcholine synthesis), and as a major source for methyl groups via its metabolite, trimethylglycine (betaine) that participates in the S-adenosylmethionine synthesis pathways.
Choline supplements are often taken as a form of 'smart drug' or nootropic, due to the role that the neurotransmitter acetylcholine plays in various cognition systems within the brain. Choline is a chemical precursor or "building block" needed to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and research suggests that memory, intelligence and mood are mediated at least in part by acetylcholine metabolism in the brain. The compound's quaternary amine renders its lipid insoluble which might suggest it would be unable to cross the blood-brain barrier. However, despite choline's lipid insolubility, a choline transporter exists that allows transport across the blood-brain barrier. The efficacy of these supplements in enhancing cognitive abilities is a topic of continuing debate.
Lakhan & Vieira (2008) link choline deficiency to bipolar disorder and report efficacy in lecithin supplementation based on a double-blind, placebo controlled trial.
Some people who practice lucid dreaming use Galantamine with choline bitartrate or Alpha GPC to increase their odds of having a lucid dream. Acetylcholine precursors such as choline work synergistically with Galantamine to help improve memory and the symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease (AD).
Due to its role in lipid metabolism, choline has also found its way into nutritional supplements which claim to reduce body fat; but there is little or no evidence to prove that it has any effect on reducing excess body fat or that taking high amounts of choline will increase the rate at which fat is metabolised.
The most often available choline dietary supplement is lecithin, derived from soy or egg yolks, often used as a food additive. Phosphatidylcholine is also available as a supplement, in pill or powder form. Supplementary choline is also available as choline chloride, which comes as a liquid due to its hydrophilic properties. Choline chloride is sometimes preferred as a supplement because phosphatidylcholine can have gastrointestinal side effects.
Although the human body can make some choline it is generally recognized that it is important to get dietary choline as well. Although most foods have at least a little choline, some people may have to pay more close attention to get enough in their diets, particularly if they do not eat many whole eggs.