The new nutrient content claim was the result of a notification to the US Food and Drug Administration from Central Soya, a
The NAS listed choline as essential in its 1998 round of guidelines and set an Adequate Intake level of 550mg/day for men and 425mg/day for women (while recognizing that women require more during pregnancy and lactation). The group also set the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for adults at 3.5g/day. After these values had been set, the FDA determined that the NAS publication was considered an authoritative statement, as required under the FDAMA.
In the 1970s, US consumers consumed on average more than 550mg/day choline, owing to a diet which contained plenty of choline-rich foods, such as red meat and eggs. However, over the last couple of decades, changing eating habits, and particularly the drive to reduce saturated fat in the diet, have led to a reduction in intakes. The new claim for choline should help consumers reverse this trend by selecting food products containing the nutrient.
The role of choline in maintaining a healthy body was reviewed at a press conference to publicize the new claim by Steven Zeisel of the
Dr Zeisel noted that choline is an essential component of cell membranes and is crucial to membrane production. In addition, it is instrumental in the conversion of homocysteine, an amino acid implicated as a positive risk factor for heart disease, to methionine, and is involved in the export of fat from the liver. The latter process is inhibited in the absence of phosphatidylcholine, a compound which presents choline in a usable form to the body. Other indications of choline's importance include the fact that liver cells can be driven into programmed cell death, or apoptosis, if the nutrient is deficient.
Another key activity of choline is as a precursor to acetylcholine, one of the most important neurotransmitters in the body, noted Dr Zeisel. He told the conference that several studies have indicated that giving choline supplements can lead to memory improvements. For example, studies in normal subjects have suggested that choline supplements can provide a modest (around 10%) improvement in memory compared to controls.
In addition, trials involving patients with Alzheimer's disease have found that a subset of sufferers, which tended to include those in the earlier stages of the disease, saw some improvement in memory, and particularly that which relates to spatial relationships (such as remembering where you parked your car). Dr Zeisel suggested that choline's activity only in early-stage patients may be explained by the fact that acetylcholinergic neurons tend to degenera