Lecithin and Choline in Human Health and Disease



Choline is involved in methyl group metabolism and lipid transport and is a component of a number of important biological compounds including the membrane phospholipids lecithin, sphingomyelin, and plasmalogen; the neurotransmitter acetylcholine; and platelet activating factor. Although a required nutrient for several animal species, choline is not currently designated as essential for humans. However, recent clinical studies show it to be essential for normal liver function. Additionally, a large body of evidence from the fields of molecular and cell biology shows that certain phospholipids play a critical role in generating second messengers for cell membrane signal transduction. This process involves a cascade of reactions that translate an external cell stimulus such as a hormone or growth factor into a change in cell transport, metabolism, growth, function, or gene expression. Disruptions in phospholipid metabolism can interfere with this process and may underlie certain disease states such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease. These recent findings may be appropriate in the consideration of choline as an essential nutrient for humans.