Choline and Complex Language Development

by Kelly Dorfman, M.S., Nutritionist and DDR Co-founder

Recently when I began recommending choline to improve motor planning, many parents reported spontaneous improvement in the complexity of expressive language in their children. I want to share my thoughts about this very exciting and unexpected outcome with our readers.

What is Choline?

Choline is essential for brain development. In 1998 the National Academy of Science recognized it and established a daily requirement of 425–550mg. Research shows that lack of choline in a mother’s diet during pregnancy and lactation can permanently limit brain capacity later in life. Individuals must ingest choline. Since primary dietary sources are liver, eggs, wheat germ, lecithin and soy, it is unlikely that many kids, especially those on elimination diets, get enough of this critical nutrient.

What is Complex Language?

Developmentally, children progress from labeling items, to asking for what they want, a form of "demand" language. The next step, the most difficult for many children on the autism spectrum, is conversing and answering "why" "where" or "what" questions, all components of "complex" language. Clinically, many children get stuck at the level of "demand" language, transitioning to the next level slowly or not at all. Making conversation requires a specific type of motor planning in the language area of the brain that allows finding, prioritizing and sequencing words, rather than simply memorizing or scripting. The part of the brain that labels objects is different from the section that generates conversation or answers questions such as "What happened at school today?"

What are the Functions of Choline?

Choline has several important purposes. It is needed to:

Case Studies

Choline Supplementation

Research supports choline supplementation. Rat pups who took choline showed enhanced memory and attention lasting throughout their lifetimes. Researchers could even identify those animals that took choline supplements in infancy from their behavior as aging rats.

Because foods alone cannot provide sufficient amounts, extra choline must be added to obtain therapeutic benefit. Choline as a dietary supplement comes in several different versions. Choline bitartrate is found in most multiple vitamins, but rarely used as a separate supplement. Alpha glyceryl phosphatidylcholine (GPC) and DMAE (see 7:2) are two other forms available. GPC is thought to slow brain aging by increasing motoric response time. DMAE may improve symptoms of attention deficit disorder, with irritability as a side effect. For complex language development, I prefer phosphatidylcholine (PC).

For children who cannot swallow capsules, try liquid PC, Xymogen Phosphaline, available from The Village Green (800.869.9159). Dosage is ½ to 1 tsp. per day. Xymogen Phosphaline is strong- tasting and thick; mix it with apple or pear sauce, spread it on a pancake, or camouflage it with maple syrup.

The only side effect of PC may be loose stools because it is fatty. PC is derived from soy, but because it contains no soy protein, it is safe for most children on gluten-, casein- and soy- free diets. Children with serious soy reactions should avoid this product, however.

Bottom line: choline is safe and effective as a brain membrane builder. It may be the secret weapon for taking language to the next level.

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 11, Number 2 - Winter, 2005-2006]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.

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Page last modified: February 23, 2009
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