Eating choline-rich foods during pregnancy may boost baby’s brain

January 11, 2018 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements

Eating choline-rich foods during pregnancy may boost baby’s brain

When expectant mothers consume sufficient amounts of a B-like vitamin called choline during pregnancy, their offspring gain enduring cognitive benefits, a new Cornell University study suggests.

Choline -- found in egg yolks, lean red meat, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts and cruciferous vegetables -- has many functions, but this study focused on its role in prenatal brain development.

The researchers used a rigorous study design to show cognitive benefits in the offspring of pregnant women who consumed close to twice the daily recommended amount of choline during their last trimester.

In animal studies, there's agreement that supplementing the maternal diet with additional choline has lifelong benefits on offspring cognitive function.

Choline is in high demand during pregnancy yet most women consume less than the recommended 450 milligrams per day. That may be because a lot of choline-rich foods that have a bad reputation, such as eggs and red meat.

More choline, 930 mg/day, benefits infant cognitive function

For the study, 26 women were randomly divided into two groups and all the women consumed exactly the same diet. Intake of choline and other nutrients were tightly controlled.

Ensuring that all the nutrients were provided in equal amounts allowed the researchers to be confident that the differences in the infants resulted from their choline intake. Half the women received 480 mg/day of choline, slightly more than the daily recommended amount, and the other half received 930 mg/day.

The scientists tested infant information processing speed and visuospatial memory at 4, 7, 10 and 13 months of age. They timed how long each infant took to look toward an image on the periphery of a computer screen, a measure of the time it takes for a cue to produce a motor response. The test has been shown to correlate with IQ in childhood. Also, research shows that infants who demonstrate fast processing speeds when young typically continue to be fast as they age.

While offspring in both groups showed cognitive benefits, information processing speeds were significantly faster for the group of expectant mothers who consumed 930 mg/day when compared with the group that took 480 mg/day over the same period.

Though the study was small, it suggests that current recommendations for daily choline intake may not be enough to produce optimal cognitive abilities in offspring. Current choline intake recommendations are based on amounts required to prevent liver dysfunction, and were extrapolated from studies done in men in part because no studies had investigated requirements during pregnancy.

Source: The FASEB Journal, December 7, 2017.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.