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Low Choline Linked With Liver Scarring

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) causes fibrosis, a disease that can lead to scarring of the liver and possibly complete organ failure. A recent study suggests that low choline levels could be associated with the development of more severe fibrosis.

Choline is an essential nutrient that is usually grouped within the B-complex vitamins.

The researchers were based at John Hopkins Children's Center. Their findings were published in the March 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Participants in the study included 664 individuals of varying ages who had been diagnosed with NAFLD. Because the level of choline a person needs varies by age, sex and menopausal status, the researchers grouped the participants into four groups: children from age 9 to 13, boys younger than 14 years, premenopausal women over the age of 19, and postmenopausal women.

Diet was determined by administering a recall-based food-frequency questionnaire that was administered within 6 months of a liver biopsy.

Once they controlled for factors associated with NAFLD, the researchers found the worst fibrosis in postmenopausal women with choline deficiency. 50% had advanced liver scarring, compared to only 30% of the postmenopausal women without choline deficiency.

In comparison, 18% of women of childbearing age with a choline deficiency had advanced liver scarring while 10% without a choline deficiency were similarly afflicted. Similar numbers were seen in the other three groups.

The researchers believe that the more pronounced difference seen in postmenopausal women could be due to lower estrogen levels. Estrogen has been associated with genes that regulate choline synthesis.

Choline performs many of the same functions in the human body as vitamin B. It has been linked with prevention of accumulation of liver fats, helping muscles function, keeping cholesterol at a healthy level and promoting cell growth. It can be found in saltwater fish, eggs, liver, chicken, milk, cauliflower and some legumes.

The Institute of Medicine recommends 425 mg per day for non-pregnant, non-breastfeeding women and 550 mg daily for men. If you think you're not getting the recommended daily intake, consider taking a high quality supplement.

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