The choline-containing phospholipid phosphatidylcholine (lecithin) has been used as a treatment to lower cholesterol concentrations because lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase has an important role in the removal of cholesterol from tissues. In humans phosphatidylcholine ingestion is associated with a modest reduction in plasma cholesterol (Hirsch et al., 1978; Wood and Allison, 1982; Zeisel et al., 1991). In addition, choline or betaine treatment has been used to lower high plasma homocysteine concentrations (Anonymous, 1997; Dudman et al., 1987; Wendel and Bremer, 1984; Wilcken et al., 1983, 1985), and choline-deficient rodents have elevated plasma homocysteine concentrations (Varela-Moreiras et al., 1995) (see Chapter 8, “Vascular Disease”). Wendel and Bremer (1984) reported that betaine treatment was more effective than folate treatment in normalizing plasma homocysteine and methionine concentrations of a child with homocystinuria, a genetic disease caused by 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency (choline is the precursor for betaine, which itself is found in sugar beets and wine). Therefore, dietary choline intake might be correlated with cardiovascular disease risk. More human studies are needed before conclusions can be drawn about whether dietary choline intake is useful in preventing cardiovascular disease.
In rodents dietary choline deficiency is associated with increased incidence of liver cancer and increased sensitivity to carcinogenic chemicals (Newberne and Rogers, 1986). The mechanisms of the carcinogenic actions of choline deficiency are not known but may be mediated by changes in protein kinase C activity (da Costa et al., 1993, 1995). There are no human data; studies in humans are needed to assess the role of dietary choline in the prevention of cancer.
Any consideration of the requirements for choline and methionine needs to include the close interrelationships with other methyl donors. Choline, methionine, and folate metabolism interact at the point that homocysteine is converted to methionine.