Pregnancy And Nutrition: Choline For Your Baby's Development

What Is Choline?

Choline might not get a lot of press, but it is an essential nutrient1. In other words, the amount of choline that is naturally produced in the body is not enough to cover your needs, let alone the needs of your growing baby. Eating foods rich in choline and supplementing with a prenatal vitamin ensures you are getting enough. Choline is a vitamin-like compound that was first discovered only two decades ago. It helps your body to build compounds by supplying building blocks. Some of the benefits it provides are associated with cell membrane signaling and lipid transport. Choline helps the cells in the central nervous system, brain, and your liver to function normally. According to some studies, supplementing with choline may also reduce the inflammatory response while you are pregnant, thereby reducing the possibility of preeclampsia and premature birth.

Choline And Pregnancy

The American Medical Association (AMA) recently voiced its support for adding choline to prenatal supplements2. According to one alarming statistic, only 10% of pregnant women are getting enough choline in their daily diet3. That is why structuring your meals to include foods rich in choline is so important. There are many delicious options, such as crockpot beef and mushroom stew. According to this article by Dr. Taylor Wallace (AMA), eating eggs and taking a prenatal supplement with choline is crucial for meeting the increased choline needs during pregnancy4. As a general guideline, shoot for 250-300mg of choline in your prenatal vitamin.

Choline And Your Baby's Brain Development

Choline provides very specific benefits to your developing baby's brain. It helps with the development of the hippocampus, which is associated with memory5. A small study was done in which women were provided with choline during the third trimester6. One group received 480mg choline and the other was given 930mg. The babies were then examined at 4, 7, 10, and 13 months of age. The tests involved visual-spatial memory and processing speed (thought to be associated with IQ). All seemed to have benefited with their cognitive abilities, but the group that took more choline showed better processing speed. Based on these results, the researchers recommend a supplement plus increasing choline in your diet during pregnancy. For women who do not consume animal products, the researchers recommend a 450 mg choline supplement. The recommended goal is still 450 mg during pregnancy, despite the benefits for additional choline in some studies.

Protection Against Neural Tube Defects, Cleft Lip, And Cleft Palate

A study of 180,000 pregnant women showed that higher blood levels of choline had a protective effect against neural tube defects7. In 2013, another study showed that lower levels of dietary choline (150mg daily) increased the risk for neural tube defects and cleft palate/cleft lip8.

Lower Stress-Related Diseases For Your Baby

A study conducted in 2012 showed higher intake of choline altered certain placental markers of prenatal stress, including cortisol9. The authors feel that stress-related diseases could be at a reduced risk, including diabetes, depression, and hypertension.

Foods Rich In Choline

The top sources include beef liver, eggs, beef, scallops, salmon, chicken, and cod10. But how do you get enough choline in your diet if you’re a vegetarian or vegan? Vegetarians can get some choline in eggs and milk products. There are also several plant-based sources of choline including legumes, tofu, green vegetables, potatoes, nuts, seeds, grains, and fruit. Plant sources are fairly low in choline, making it even more difficult to reach your daily intake. That's why it's important to take a prenatal whole food multivitamin rich in choline to make up for the difference.
References: 1., Choline 2., AMA Recommendations Highlight Importance of Choline for Pregnancy, June 28, 2017 3., Racial/ethnic and sociodemographic factors associated with micronutrient intakes and inadequacies among pregnant women in an urban US population, 2014 Sep;17(9):1960-70. doi: 10.1017/S1368980013003224. Epub 2013 Dec 13 4., AMA Recommends Choline for Pregnant and Lactating Women, JUL 07, 2017 5., Choline: Critical Role During Fetal Development and Dietary Requirements in Adults, 2008 Jun 30 6., Adequate choline in pregnancy may have cognitive benefits for offspring, January 3, 2018 7., Choline and risk of neural tube defects in a folate-fortified population, 2009 Sep;20(5):714-9. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e3181ac9fe7 8., Maternal nutrient intakes and risk of orofacial clefts, 2006 May;17(3):285-91 9., Maternal choline intake alters the epigenetic state of fetal cortisol-regulating genes in humans, May 1, 2010 10., Nutrient Lists