NIH awards $2.6 million grant to researchers developing choline status lab test

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Eggs are a source of choline. Photo: iStock / Christopher Stokey
Eggs are a source of choline. Photo: iStock / Christopher Stokey

Related tags Choline Nutrition

Researchers at the University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute have been awarded a four-year, $2.6 million grant by the National Institutes of Health to develop and validate laboratory tests to assess choline status in humans.

The grant came from the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Are there a lot of people walking around with signs they are choline deficient? We don’t know, because we don’t have a good test for choline status,”​ UNC director Steven H. Zeisel, MD, PhD, told NutraIngredients-USA.

Dr. Zeisel’s research team used pilot funds from chemical company Balchem Corporation to demonstrate that the development method was feasible and likely to succeed. Balchem’s Human Nutrition and Pharma division makes the branded choline ingredient VitaCholine.

“Blood levels are just not good enough because we have mechanisms that maintain blood choline in face of deficiency. We showed what happens to people when they eat almost no choline, and the new NIH grant asks what happens if people eat more,”​ Dr. Zeisel said.

“We will be measuring blood markers that we know change in the very deficient—will they also change in the modestly deficient? We think they will.”

Choline under the spotlight

Based on research by the US Centers of Disease Control’s What We Eat in America survey, a vast majority of Americans, 90%, are not getting the recommended intake of choline.

Studies on the nutrient show its critical role in the human brain, liver, and muscles. Choline is produced naturally by the liver, but not in amounts that meet human needs. Additional sources for choline from food include dairy products, eggs, and animal liver.

Choline deficient people can have excessive muscle loss when exercising, or develop liver problems.

Scientific literature on choline’s role in fetal and infant brain development is also expansive. In fact, the American Medical Association supported an increase of choline in all prenatal vitamins​ to 450 mg/day in a resolution passed during the association’s annual meeting last year, a move applauded by the dietary supplement industry as it may raise the public’s awareness of the nutrient.

More support for choline research

According to Dr. Zeisel, the NIH grant signals that the federal agency recognizes choline’s importance and the need to have more refined choline recommendations.

Tom Druke, director of VitaCholine brand development at Balchem Human Nutrition and Pharma commented: “This grant is an important step in supporting human heath by providing a tool that will motivate people to get adequate amounts of choline once they are able to find out what their levels actually are.”

“This is an ideal example of how industry can collaborate with leading institutions to conduct important research that leads to government funding. Balchem is proud to have supported this groundbreaking research.”

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