Eating More Foods with Choline During Pregnancy Could Boost Baby’s Brain

When expectant mothers consume sufficient amounts of the nutrient 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, who published their findings online in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, used a rigorous study design to show cognitive benefits in the offspring of pregnant women who daily consumed close to twice the currently recommended amount of choline during their last trimester.

“In animal models using rodents, there’s widespread agreement that supplementing the maternal diet with additional amounts of this single nutrient has lifelong benefits on offspring cognitive function,” said Marie Caudill, professor of nutritional sciences and the study’s first author. “Our study provides some evidence that a similar result is found in humans.”

The finding is important because choline is in high demand during pregnancy yet most women consume less than the recommended 450 milligrams per day.

“Part of that is due to current dietary trends and practices,” said Richard Canfield, a developmental psychologist in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and the senior author of the study. “There are a lot of choline-rich foods that have a bad reputation these days,” he said. Eggs, for example, are high in cholesterol, and health professionals, including those in the government, have raised caution about pregnant women consuming undercooked eggs, which may deter women from eating them altogether, even though such risks are low for pasteurized or cooked eggs, Canfield said. Red meats are often avoided for their high saturated fat content, and liver is not commonly eaten, he added.

Two previous studies by other research teams had mixed results after examining cognitive effects of maternal choline supplementation, perhaps due to study designs that were not tightly controlled, Caudill said.

In this 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, which was important since the metabolism of choline and its functions can overlap with such nutrients as vitamin B12, folic acid and vitamin B6.

“By ensuring that all the nutrients were provided in equal amounts, we could be confident that the differences in the infants resulted from their choline intake,” Caudill said. In this study, half the women received 480 mg/day of choline, slightly more than the adequate intake level, and the other half received 930 mg/day.

Canfield and co-author Laura Muscalu, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Ithaca College, 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 by Canfield and others 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 has a small sample, it suggests that current recommendations for daily choline intake may not be enough to produce optimal cognitive abilities in offspring, Canfield said. 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: Cornell University

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Gut Bacteria May Turn Common Nutrient into Clot-enhancing Compound

Gut bacteria can produce a clot-enhancing compound when people eat a nutrient found in a variety of foods including meat, eggs and milk, according to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

Excessive blood clotting limits or blocks blood flow which can cause heart attack, stroke, damage to the body’s organs or death.

The new study provides the first direct evidence in humans that consuming excess choline, an essential nutrient plentiful in a Western diet, raises both levels of the bacteria-produced compound, called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), and the tendency of platelets to clump together and form clots. Numerous studies have shown that higher blood levels of TMAO are associated with a greater risk of heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes in humans, and recent studies showed that feeding animals choline-supplemented diets also raised their risk of clotting.

In this small study, 18 volunteers (8 vegan or vegetarian, 10 omnivores) without heart disease or major risk factors (average age 46 years, 40 percent male), took supplements of 500 milligrams (mg) of choline bitartrate twice daily for two months. The average daily intake is about 302 mg a day.

Researchers found:

  • Blood levels of TMAO rose more than 10 times after both 1 and 2 months of choline supplementation in both vegans/vegetarians and omnivores alike.
  • The tendency of platelets to form clots in a laboratory test rose with choline supplementation.
  • The ability of elevated TMAO levels to promote clot formation was reduced when subjects were also taking a daily baby aspirin (81 mg/day).

“Foods that raise TMAO may increase your risk for clotting and thrombotic events. Unless prescribed by your doctor, avoid supplements with choline. A Mediterranean or vegetarian diet is reported to help reduce TMAO,” said Stanley L. Hazen, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study, chair of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and section head of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Source: American Heart Association


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