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Br J Nutr. 2013 Feb 14;109(3):511-9. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512001249. Epub 2012 May 1.

Plasma free choline, betaine and cognitive performance: the Hordaland Health Study.

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Department of Nutrition, Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway.
Department of Public Health and Primary Health Care, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway.
Section for Pharmacology, Institute of Medicine, Haukeland University Hospital, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway.
Department of Geriatric Medicine, Norwegian Centre for Dementia Research, Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway.
Department of Pharmacology, Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA), University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


Choline and betaine are nutrients involved in one-carbon metabolism. Choline is essential for neurodevelopment and brain function. We studied the associations between cognitive function and plasma concentrations of free choline and betaine. In a cross-sectional study, 2195 subjects (55 % women), aged 70-74 years, underwent extensive cognitive testing including the Kendrick Object Learning Test (KOLT), Trail Making Test (part A, TMT-A), modified versions of the Digit Symbol Test (m-DST), Block Design (m-BD), Mini-Mental State Examination (m-MMSE) and Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT). Compared with low concentrations, high choline (>8·4 μmol/l) was associated with better test scores in the TMT-A (56·0 v. 61·5, P=0·004), m-DST (10·5 v. 9·8, P=0·005) and m-MMSE (11·5 v. 11·4, P=0·01). A generalised additive regression model showed a positive dose-response relationship between the m-MMSE and choline (P=0·012 from a corresponding linear regression model). Betaine was associated with the KOLT, TMT-A and COWAT, but after adjustments for potential confounders, the associations lost significance. Risk ratios (RR) for poor test performance roughly tripled when low choline was combined with either low plasma vitamin B₁₂ (≤257 pmol/l) concentrations (RR(KOLT)=2·6, 95 % CI 1·1, 6·1; RR(m-MMSE)=2·7, 95 % CI 1·1, 6·6; RR(COWAT)=3·1, 95 % CI 1·4, 7·2) or high methylmalonic acid (MMA) (≥3·95 μmol/l) concentrations (RR(m-BD)=2·8, 95 % CI 1·3, 6·1). Low betaine (≤31·1 μmol/l) combined with high MMA was associated with elevated RR on KOLT (RR(KOLT)=2·5, 95 % CI 1·0, 6·2). Low plasma free choline concentrations are associated with poor cognitive performance. There were significant interactions between low choline or betaine and low vitamin B₁₂ or high MMA on cognitive performance.

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