Showing Signs of Brain Fog? It Could Be Choline Deficiency
Choline, Estrogen and Your Longterm Brain Health
One of the most exciting recent discoveries in precision nutrition is the critical effect of the key nutrient choline on brain health in women as they age. In addition, estrogen, a hormone predominantly linked to female reproductive functions, also plays an essential role in women's brain health, particularly older women. The decrease in estrogen levels during menopause can affect long-term cognitive abilities such as memory, learning, and attention. This decrease is concerning as older women make up roughly two-thirds of Alzheimer's disease cases.
Understanding Choline: Essential Nutrient for Cognitive Health
Central to our cognitive processes is the essential nutrient choline. Choline is fundamental to the nerve fibers responsible for releasing acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter crucial for memory, learning, attention, and other higher brain functions. Yet, research from our lab reveals that a staggering 90% of Americans fall short of meeting dietary intake recommendations for choline. In women over 70-years-old, this figure rises to 97%.
While the liver does produce some choline, its production is not enough to fulfill our body's needs. In women, estrogen can boost the liver’s choline production. A clear example of its importance is during pregnancy, when estrogen levels can soar by up to 60 times, leading to increased maternal choline production to aid in fetal brain development.
Beyond its direct role in brain function, choline plays a part in producing phosphatidylcholine, which houses an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA. Both phosphatidylcholine and DHA are indispensable in maintaining the health of our brain's cell membranes, ensuring optimal communication between brain cells.
Genetics, Diet, and Alzheimer's Risk
However, there's a twist. Many women possess genetic mutations that affect the liver's choline production despite the presence of estrogen. This means they likely need to consume more choline through the diet.
The lab of one of our scientific advisors, Taylor Wallace, PhD, is diving deeper into this area, exploring the potential benefits of higher dietary choline intake as a potential means of mitigating cognitive decline later in life. Preliminary results, backed by over 40 animal studies and several human ones, hint at its positive impact in reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk in both genders.
The Dietary Importance of Choline
So, where can we get choline from in our diets?
- Egg yolks top the list as the richest source. One large egg contains approx. 147 mg of choline, which covers about 27% of the daily recommended intake for adult men and 36% for adult women.
- Protein-rich foods like meat, poultry, and seafood.
However, choline is scarce among plant-based foods (except soybeans), which places vegetarians at a higher risk of choline deficiency. Most vegetarians need to supplement with choline to meet current recommended intakes. If you do not consume animal-derived foods, Ahara’s testing can help you figure out if you should be taking a choline supplement to help fill nutrition gaps.
Note: Ahara tests for two specific genetic variants that help predict your risk for choline deficiency and then provides clear and practical guidance to help you eat more choline regularly to protect your brain health.