Formation of methylamines from ingested choline and lecithin

J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1983 May;225(2):320-4.


Humans ingest substantial amounts of choline and lecithin as part of common foods. Physicians have recently begun administering large doses of these compounds to individuals with neurological diseases. A significant fraction of ingested choline is destroyed by enzymes within gut bacteria, forming trimethylamine (TMA), dimethylamine (DMA) and monomethylamine (MMA). Some of these methylamines are eventually excreted into the urine, presumably after being absorbed and carried to the kidneys via the bloodstream. The methylamines formed after choline is eaten could be substrates for the formation of nitrosamines, which have marked carcinogenic activity. Twenty-seven millimoles of choline chloride, choline stearate or lecithin were administered to healthy human subjects. It was found that these treatments markedly increased the urinary excretion of TMA, DMA and MMA, with choline chloride having the greatest effect. Rats were treated with 2 mmol/kg b.wt. of choline chloride or lecithin, and it was found that these treatments significantly increased urinary TMA excretion and did not alter DMA or MMA excretion. Our choline chloride preparation contained no MMA, DMA or TMA; however, it was found that our choline stearate and all the commercially available lecithins tested were contaminated with methylamines. Prior removal of methylamines from our lecithin preparation minimized the effect of oral administration of this compound on methylamine excretion in urine of rats and humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Choline / administration & dosage*
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Dimethylamines / urine
  • Drug Contamination
  • Humans
  • Methylamines / biosynthesis
  • Methylamines / urine*
  • Phosphatidylcholines / administration & dosage*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains


  • Dimethylamines
  • Methylamines
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • dimethylamine
  • methylamine
  • trimethylamine
  • Choline