The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 12 No. 5 • October 2009

Low Choline Levels Associated With
High Anxiety Levels in Human Study

Choline is found in especially large amounts in animal products, such as meat, fish, liver, and eggs, but also in a few vegetable products such as wheat germ and soybeans.1 A new study1 reports on the association between plasma choline concentrations and scores on tests for symptoms of anxiety and depression in a general population sample of both men and women ages 46–49 and 70–74 years in the Hordaland Health Study (Norway). This is interesting because, despite the fact that many papers have been published concerning the relationship between choline and cognition, far fewer have focused on its effects on emotional functioning.

In this study, a significant association was found between high anxiety levels (but not depression) and choline levels in the lowest versus the highest quintile [the Odds Ratio between those in the lowest quintile as compared to those in the highest quintile was 1.36 (95% CI: 1.06, 1.69, with p<0.007) for the model fully adjusted for potential confounding factors]. As these subjects had all been participants in a homocysteine study, the researchers also had plasma levels for betaine and dimethylglycine as well as choline, but found no significant relationship between either betaine or dimethylglycine and anxiety or depression.

The authors point out that data on the role of acetylcholine (made from choline) in mental disorders and emotional regulation in humans is sparse. They note that in rats, dorsal hippocampal cholinergic transmission mediates an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect. Moreover, nicotine, which activates nicotinic cholinergic receptors, has effects on anxiety in animal and human studies. They suggest that the importance of choline in methylation reactions may play a role in choline’s anti-anxiety effects. “Stress, an anxiety component, induces an increase in adrenal catecholamines, which increases the demand for methylation reactions required in norepinephrine and adrenaline synthesis.” Nevertheless, they found no evidence that choline’s role in methylation reactions was a factor in anxiety in a previous study of the same population.

  1. Bjelland et al. Choline in anxiety and depression: the Hordaland Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr 90:1056-60 (2009).

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