Choline is an essential nutrient, critical to overall health. It is especially important during pregnancy. Choline plays a vital role in development of the brain in the fetus and in infants. Insufficient choline in the fetal brain adversely affects the development of the hippocampus and cortex—areas of the brain that regulate higher thinking and memory, including visual memory. These are the brain areas children use for mental math and adults employ to remember where to find their car in a parking lot.
According to Steven Zeisel, MD, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Director of the Nutrition Research Institute at University of North Carolina, a mother’s choline consumption during pregnancy affects the child’s IQ and memory tests. “The mother’s choline intake during pregnancy can be related to children’s performance when they’re school age,” Dr. Zeisel said. He noted that children born to women with lower intakes of choline during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy did not perform as well in intelligence and visual memory tests at seven years of age as did children born to women who had consumed higher levels of choline during pregnancy.
In 1998, The Institutes of Medicine—the public health arm of the National Academy of Sciences—documented the important role of choline in pregnancy and lactation. They set the adequate intake (AI) recommendations at 425 mg per day for women, 450 mg per day for pregnant women, and 550 mg per day for lactating women. In addition to its impact on the brain throughout life, choline also acts like a folate in preventing neural tube defects (NTD) in fetal development. Neural tube birth defects, such as anencephaly or spina bifida, occur early in pregnancy, before many women realize they are pregnant.
Currently, more than 90 percent of the U.S. population does not meet the AI recommendation for choline. Because consumption of choline-rich foods like eggs and liver has decreased in recent years, it is almost always necessary to supplement the diet with choline. Women should check their prenatal vitamins for choline; not all multivitamins, including prenatal vitamins, contain choline.
For more information, visit www.thecholineinformationcouncil.com.