New Hampton, N.Y. A $2.6 million grant to UNC Nutrition Research Institute to study choline status in humans is spurring industry leaders, researchers and the medical community to push choline into the mainstream.

“This grant is an important step in supporting human health 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,” said Tom Druke, director of VitaCholine Brand Development, Balchem Human Nutrition and Pharma. “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.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded UNC Nutrition Research Institute a four-year, $2.6 million grant to develop and validate laboratory tests able to assess choline status in humans.  UNC Nutrition Research Institute director Steven H. Zeisel, MD, PhD received the funding from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), which is part of the NIH, according to apress release.

Choline is an important and essential nutrient for human health, playing a key role in brain development, and liver and muscle function. It is particularly important for pregnant women and newborns. Asreportedin Whole Foods Magazine, a new study suggests that the increased use of choline during pregnancy could improve a child's cognitive functioning.

According to research recently published in theJournal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology(The FASEB Journal), and conducted at Cornell University by Marie Caudill and her team, pregnant women need two times more choline than currently recommended, particularly in the last trimester, to achieve optimal cognitive benefits for their children.

Studies show that while the Adequate Intake (AI) of choline during pregnancy is 450 mg per day, less than 10% of pregnant women are taking this amount. Further research shows that pregnant women actually consume 319 mg of choline per day, which is just 70% of the AI and less than two-thirds of the control group’s 480mg daily intake in the Cornell study.

This is not the only population suffering from low choline intake.  But there are no good validated biomarkers for assessing choline nutritional status and studies reflect this. Extensiveresearchby the US Centers of Disease Control - What We Eat in America, NHANES 2013-2014 – found that 90% of US adults are not getting the recommended intake of choline. Dr. Zeisel said, “We need a better lab test that health professionals can use to assess a person’s choline status given the narrow range for healthy intake of choline, the three-fold variation in dietary intake in the US, and the effects of common genetic variants on requirements for choline. With the recent establishment by the Food and Drug Administration of a Reference Daily Intake (RDI) of choline, awareness of this critical nutrient is growing and health professionals will need diagnostic tools to help consumers make good choices for health.” Unfortunately, plasma choline concentrations alone are not a good measure of choline status.

To successfully compete for this large award from the NIH, Dr. Zeisel had to demonstrate that the studies were feasible and were likely to succeed; he generated this proof-of-concept data in a pilot study that was funded by Balchem Corp., a company that produces choline for food uses.