Choline may be an essential nutrient, but 20 years ago, most people had never heard of it. That is not the case now, said choline supplier Balchem Corp. (New Hampton, NY) at October’s SupplySide West trade show. Driven by more studies demonstrating choline’s critical benefits for human health, awareness of the nutrient and our low intake of it is increasing each year.
“The science is really driving the market,” said Tom Druke, Balchem’s marketing and branding leader, nutritional ingredients. “Ten years ago, there would be one article per year about choline; now, they’re one after another, so they’re really hitting.”
Studies show that choline—which is neither a vitamin nor a mineral, but rather a water-soluble, vitamin-like nutrient—plays a wide-ranging role in human health, from prenatal development and cognitive function to liver health, muscle maintenance, and energy production. Up to 90% of people may not be getting adequate choline intake, the company says.
The research on choline has advanced significantly, Druke said. For instance, he said, “Now, you have research centers at Arizona State University who are doing some fantastic animal models with Alzheimer’s disease and looking at real mechanisms of action by which choline supplementation is changing the way the brain develops over time, and its effect on disease development. There is also a group out at the University of Colorado which is looking at more of the neurofunctional effects of choline as it relates to schizophrenia risk. They’re discovering that if a mom is doing something that’s harmful to the baby, such as alcohol consumption, or falling ill for no fault of her own, that has an impact on the developing fetus—but if you incorporate higher amounts of choline, there’s a mitigating effect. It helps prevent certain insults to the brain from getting worse.”
Government scientific bodies are also paying stronger attention to the essential need for choline. The U.S. Institute of Medicine first recognized choline as an essential nutrient in 1998. And the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, who will review the body of nutrition science in order to establish the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, now in part focuses on the relationship between nutrient intakes and neurocognitive status and development. Because choline plays a significant role in prenatal and postnatal development, especially in the first 1000 days, Druke predicts, “we’re in a good position with choline” and its potential treatment in the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Other leading medical groups are also calling attention to choline, such as the American Medical Association, which in 2017 began recommending prenatal choline supplementation, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose policies now include recommending choline supplementation for childhood development as well as adult health.
Balchem has played a role in helping to spread awareness of the need for choline, including its flagship VitaCholine ingredient. “I think the inadequacy [of choline intake] is now quite well known, and thanks to our efforts with nutrition influencers, the [medical] community is starting to evangelize that message,” Druke said.
This is also benefiting the choline supplement market. “It’s getting more attention,” he continued. “There’s always room to grow, and the government operates slowly, but everything I’m seeing is moving in a positive direction. We’re now seeing a lot of growth in the supplement area. I think it was a little slower until we had the policy declarations, but people pay attention when a body like the American Medical Association on its own comes out and says [that choline is an essential nutrient]. We didn’t push that. That didn’t come from us. That was a natural development. Those are the kinds of proclamations that make a bigger move in the dietary supplement industry and start to drive activity, because people then realize, ‘Hey, if the medical groups are starting to pull up on it, there’s going to start to be consumer pull.’”
In addition to highlighting the need for choline in prenatal and child development, Balchem is shedding light on another crucial choline action: helping to maintain liver health and contribute to energy production. Choline helps transport fat out of the liver; those fats are then converted to energy. At SupplySide West, the company sponsored an educational session discussing “how a low-carb, healthy fat-enriched diet can be optimized with the use of choline.”