Dietary choline associates with reduced risk of dementia

A new study by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland is the first to observe that dietary intake of phosphatidylcholine is associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Phosphatidylcholine was also linked to enhanced cognitive performance. The main dietary sources of phosphatidylcholine were eggs and meat. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Choline is an essential nutrient, usually occurring in food in various compounds. Choline is also necessary for the formation of acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter. Earlier studies have linked choline intake with cognitive processing, and adequate choline intake may play a role in the prevention of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, choline is nowadays used in a multinutrient medical drink intended for the treatment of early Alzheimer’s.

The new study now shows that the risk of dementia was 28% lower in men with the highest intake of dietary phosphatidylcholine, when compared to men with the lowest intake. Men with the highest intake of dietary phosphatidylcholine also excelled in tests measuring their memory and linguistic abilities. These findings are significant, considering that more than 50 million people worldwide are suffering from a memory disorder that has led to dementia, and the number is expected to grow as the population ages. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, for which no cure currently exists. The new findings may, therefore, play a vital role in the prevention of dementia. Successful dementia prevention is a sum of many things and in this equation, even small individual factors can have a positive effect on the overall risk, possibly by preventing or delaying the disease onset.

“However, this is just one observational study, and we need further research before any definitive conclusions can be drawn,” Maija Ylilauri, a PhD Student at the University of Eastern Finland points out.

The data for the study were derived from the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, KIHD. At the onset of the study in 1984–1989, researchers analysed approximately 2,500 Finnish men aged between 42 and 60 for their dietary and lifestyle habits, and health in general. These data were combined with their hospital records, cause of death records and medication reimbursement records after an average follow-up period of 22 years. In addition, four years after the study onset, approximately 500 men completed tests measuring their memory and cognitive processing. During the follow-up, 337 men developed dementia.

The analyses extensively accounted for other lifestyle and nutrition related factors that could have explained the observed associations. In addition, the APOE4 gene, which predisposes to Alzheimer’s disease and is common in the Finnish population, was accounted for, showing no significant impact on the findings. The key sources of phosphatidylcholine in the study population’s diet were eggs (39%) and meat (37%).

For further information, please contact:

Maija Ylilauri, Master of Health Sciences, Authorised Nutritionist, University of Eastern Finland, Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, tel. +358 44 544 9762, maija.ylilauri@uef.fi

Jyrki Virtanen, PhD, Adjunct Professor in Nutrition Epidemiology (principal investigator). University of Eastern Finland, Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, tel. +358294454542 jyrki.virtanen@uef.fi

Associations of dietary choline intake with risk of incident dementia and with cognitive performance: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study

Maija P.T. Ylilauri, Sari Voutilainen, Eija Lönnroos, Heli E.K. Virtanen, Tomi-Pekka Tuomainen, Jukka T. Salonen, Jyrki K. Virtanen

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published online July 30, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz148

About Us

The University of Eastern Finland, UEF, is one of the largest universities in Finland. The activities of the UEF underscore multidisciplinarity, and the university is especially strong in research related to forests and the environment, health and well-being, and new technologies and materials. The UEF offers teaching in more than 100 major subjects. In addition to the high standard of teaching, the university offers its students a modern study environment, which is under constant development. The university comprises four faculties: the Philosophical Faculty, the Faculty of Science and Forestry, the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The university’s campuses are located in the heart of beautiful eastern Finland in Joensuu, Kuopio and Savonlinna. The UEF is home to approximately 15 000 students and nearly 2 800 members of staff.

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