When we read a supplement label, some of the ingredients can sound like they’re either snake oil, or they need a chemistry degree to figure out. One of the more common ingredients we find in everything from fat-burners, to testosterone boosters, to nootropics, is Choline.

The goal of this article is to demystify Choline. It can actually be pretty easy to understand, once it’s broken down. If you still have questions after reading, check the FAQs at the end.

Most of our research came from a scholarly article from Oregon State University, which you can find here. Another great article about cell signalling is from Nature, found here.

What is Choline?

Choline is a cation (pronounced CAT-ion), and it forms with other compounds to form salts (Not like table salt. Salts in chemistry are just compounds of ions that have no electric charge and dissolve completely in water).

Choline is produced in the human body, but not in sufficient quantities to do any good. Its chemical formation is C5H14NO+. That means it is mostly hydrogen and carbon, with one molecule of nitrogen and one positively charged particle of oxygen. 

In the body, it is absorbed naturally through the intestines and is transmitted freely through the bloodstream. Once absorbed, it acts as a precursor to the production of other molecules in the body.

You can think of precursors like signallers in the body. We’ll use Choline as our example, since we’re not talking about any other precursors.

A single cell in the human body is capable of creating its own parts and for carrying out a given function. But each cell needs to be ‘told’ to perform a function. Otherwise we would burn all of our body fat overnight, which would leave us overheated and starved.

So each cell waits until it gets a ‘signal’ to do something. Choline floats in the blood stream until it attaches to a cell. Once attached, it releases parts of its chemical chain, which act like a key in the keyhole of the cell. When that key turns in the keyhole, the cell performs a specific function.

The two important takeaways from this are that choline is completely natural, and that it doesn’t do anything on its own. It only works with your body’s existing functions to carry out certain actions.

What Choline Does

Once choline has attached to the cells in your body, it signals the cells to produce three very important compounds.

The first thing Choline stimulates a cell to produce is a substance called phospholipids. You may recognize the root ‘lipid’ in there, and yes, it means this is a fatty substance. But don’t worry. It’s not fat that your body stores in love-handles. 

Phospholipids are what your body uses to form the walls of many cells. You can think of its function very similar to when you pour oil and water into a glass: you’ll notice the oil and water separate. In a phospholipid, the lipids, or fats, form a double walled layer, with water molecules between the two layers. This keeps the water in your cells and in your blood and lymphatic system from passing back and forth. By forming this barrier, your cells also regulate which nutrients and other chemicals come into the cell. 

Without proper phospholipid production, your cells wouldn’t be able to protect themselves or absorb nutrients.

The second thing Choline signals your body to produce is ACT, or acetylcholine. Here, the choline itself is an ingredient in the final product. ACT is a signaller, also, but for nerves instead of normal cells. 

ACT works by attaching to something called the synaptic cleft. The synaptic cleft is another keyhole, this time on the end of a muscle fiber in the body or neuron in the brain. When ACT attaches to this cleft, the muscle fiber twitches or the neuron fires. That means that without ACT, no muscle moves and no brain functions.

The last thing choline does is make itself available for your cells to create something called Trimethylglycine. Trimethylglycine is used for water regulation in your body on the cellular level. Trimethylglycine tells your body when to release water from a cell or when to pass it out of the cell and back into the bloodstream.

On a macro, or larger level, compounds like Trimethylglycine are what help your vascular, renal (kidney), and lymphatic system keep water you need and pass out water you don’t.

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What Does the Cellular Mean to the Whole Body

Sometimes it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture when we get distracted by the small details. Like the expression, “Missing the forest for the trees.” In this case, we’ll telescope out from the cells and look at what Choline can do for your body as a whole.

Choline is absolutely essential. We should start with that. The scholarly article we used for some of our research recommends up to 550mg of choline per day for proper body functions.

The positive effects of Choline are that your body will have the proper response to signals sent to and from parts of your body. From clear thinking to reflex response, your body needs choline to maintain proper ACT levels.

Choline is also important for the regulation of water levels in your body. When certain systems in your body have too much water, it leads to pressure in your veins, like a hose that’s left on too long. At a certain point, this becomes dangerous. 

Choline is so important that it is required by law to be included in baby formulas, and women breastfeeding should monitor their choline intake to maintain healthy levels in their breast milk.

Choline in Nature and Diet

Choline is produced in the body, but not in large enough quantities for proper health. Choline can be found in rich and plentiful amounts, but typically in foods that people find unsavory or in foods they’re trying to avoid.

For instance, according to an article from the Journal of Nutrition, the highest quantities of choline in food are from beef liver, chicken liver, and egg yolks. Unless you happen to have liver and onions in your regular diet, or you eat two egg yolks a day, you may not be getting the proper amount of choline in your diet.

A last note about choline in foods, it’s incredibly low in fruits and vegetables, and this can be highly dependent on soil nutrient. Because choline is stored in phospholipids, you see it in its highest concentrations in animal products.

choline foods


Choline is an essential nutrient that you can only get in proper levels from diet choices or supplements. If you’re interested in adding choline to your diet, make sure to find a trusted source to inform you of the levels found in certain foods. If you’re taking it in supplements, the Oregon article we used recommended 425 mg/day for women and 550 mg/day for men.


Is Choline Natural?

100%. It is found in everything from avocado to breastmilk.

Is Choline Safe?

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Like all things, even potassium, it is safe up to a certain point. Excessive levels, however, range in the thousands of milligrams per day.

There are no fiber ingredients we could find on their website.

Can I Trust Choline in Supplements?

Generally, yes. But remember, all nutrients need to be absorbed properly. If the choline is not naturally sourced, or is not included with a macro-nutrient absorption aid, you may not fully absorb all the choline you take.

About the Author

Steven has been into health, nutrition, and fitness for over 10 years, and has a degree in Physical Education and Coaching. He is an expert in supplements and is devoted to helping his clients achieve their fitness goals and live their best lives.

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