The Zeisel laboratory at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) is well known for defining the importance of the nutrient choline in infant brain development. They discovered that choline in mother’s diet during pregnancy is extremely important for optimal brain development in her baby. But, is this the only time in life that choline can improve brain function? Could teenagers eat extra choline to help their school performance?

The lab’s research over the past 15 years has shown that choline is a nutrient critical for the development of the brain; higher choline in the womb and during infancy results in improved memory for life. However, we did not know whether eating more choline after infancy could also improve memory.

Now, we have worked with a research team in Sweden and found that higher choline levels in the blood of teenagers was associated with improved performance in school. In a study of 324 15-year-old Swedish children, choline levels in blood plasma were positively correlated with better school grades. Prior studies on folate showed that levels of this important vitamin were also positively associated with better grades. The choline effect was independent of the folate effect. While this study is cross-sectional and does not prove causality, its findings suggest that choline itself influences the positive outcome. This is consistent with known roles of choline in neuronal development and neurotransmission.

From parents and educators to neuroscientists there is a great deal of interest in identifying ways to improve academic performance, and dietary intake of choline and folate is easily modifiable. There are many choline-rich foods (find tables of them through the USDA and Worlds Healthiest Foods) and the vitamin folate is found in abundance in green leafy vegetables and legumes.


Plasma 1-carbon metabolites and academic achievement in 15-yr-old adolescents.
Nilsson TK, Hurtig-Wennlöf A, Sjöström M, Herrmann W, Obeid R, Owen JR, Zeisel S.
FASEB J. 2016 Jan 4. pii: fj.15-281097. [Epub ahead of print]