This Nutrient May Help Prevent Alzheimer's Disease, New Research Finds
Alzheimer's disease is one of the biggest health challenges of our time. According to the Alzheimer's Association, about 5.8 million Americans are already living with the disease, and unfortunately, that number is expected to grow at an alarming rate over the coming years.
Alzheimer's—and similar conditions such as Parkinson's and dementia—are extremely complex neurodegenerative diseases with a wide range of causes. In the past few years, however, we've learned that diet plays a massive role in the prevention and progression of Alzheimer's disease (even earning it the nickname "type 3 diabetes"). And now, a new study has narrowed it down to one nutrient in particular, called choline, which appears to play a crucial role in preventing the neurological changes that occur with the disease.
The role of choline in Alzheimer's disease.
The study, published in the journal Aging Cell, focused on female mice—significant, since about two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer's disease are women—that were bred to develop Alzheimer's like symptoms. The results showed that when the mice were given high choline in their diet throughout their life, they showed improvements in spatial memory compared to mice who received average levels of choline.
Past research by the same authors, Ramon Velazquez and his colleagues at the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center (NDRC), showed similar benefits in mice with mothers supplemented with choline. This study went a step further by testing the relationship in adult female mice directly rather that simply observing the transgenerational benefits for fetal mice.
How choline affects the brain.
According to the NIH "choline is needed to produce acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter for memory, mood, muscle control, and other brain and nervous system functions." In this study in particular, lifelong supplementation with choline led to a reduction in activation of the microglia, which are specialized cells that work to rid the brain of old cells and debris. At first that might seem like a positive thing—and it is, to a certain degree—but when this process spins out of control, it can cause inflammation in the brain and the death of brain cells. Overactive microglia are a key factor in many neurodegenerative diseases and have been connected to the common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
The authors hypothesize that choline helps prevent Alzheimer's in another way as well; they block the production of amyloid-beta plaques, which are considered the "hallmark pathology observed in Alzheimer's disease," according to an article in Science Daily. According to the authors, these two actions could also be helpful for treating other conditions such as traumatic brain injuries, Parkinson's, and multiple sclerosis.
How to get more choline in your diet.
The current recommended daily intake for choline1 is 425 mg/day for adult women and 550 mg/day for adult men. But this study suggests those numbers may not be high enough to prevent the neurological changes that occur with Alzheimer's disease, especially in women. To get more choline, you can either regularly consume more choline-rich foods or add a supplement to your routine.
So how much choline should you take? In the study they used 4.5 times the RDI, which is still well below the tolerable upper limit (aka, the amount that can begin to cause side effects), which "makes this a safe strategy," according to Velazquez.
According to the USDA, the foods richest in choline are
- chicken liver (247 mg per 3 oz.)
- eggs (147 mg in one large egg with yolk)
- grass-fed beef steak (55 mg per 3 oz.)
- wheat germ (51 mg per 1 oz. toasted)
- milk (38 mg per 8 oz.)
- Brussels sprouts (32 mg per ½ cup)
If those aren't on your "foods I love" list, you can also supplement with choline. Supplements typically take the form of choline bitartrate and choline chloride, which are available at most pharmacies, health foods stores, and online for a surprisingly reasonable price (just $11 on Amazon).
This study adds to the growing pile of evidence that Alzheimer's has everything to do with nutrition and lifestyle. Even better, though, it gives those who are at risk for Alzheimer's an action step that's simple and inexpensive to implement.
Gretchen Lidicker is an mbg health contributor, content strategist, and the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. She holds a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University.