Prenatal Choline Intake Recommendations May Be Too Low

Due to the large amounts of choline needed to support fetal development during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester, current recommended levels may be too low, and could lead to birth defects in offspring, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN).

PARK RIDGE, Ill.Due to the large amounts of choline needed to support fetal development during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester, current recommended levels may be too low, and could lead to birth defects in offspring, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN).

Cornell University researchers evaluated pregnant and non-pregnant women who were all given a controlled diet that provided 380 milligrams/day (mg/d) of choline, primarily from eggs. The women were then randomly assigned to receive choline supplements of 100 or 550 mg/d.

The study found that there is an increased fetal demand for phosphatidylcholine during pregnancy, much of it being transferred to the developing fetus. Choline is an essential nutrient that is required to make phosphatidylcholine, a component of all cell membranes.

"The methodology we employed in this study helped us clearly see changes in choline metabolism during pregnancy," said Marie Caudill, Ph.D., professor in the division of nutritional sciences at Cornell University and lead investigator of this study. "The results are very meaningful because they demonstrate the substantial demand for choline during pregnancy and may call for an increase in the amount of choline recommended in the diets of expecting mothers."

Further, choline has been shown to play an important role in fetal and infant brain development, affecting the areas of the brain responsible for memory and life-long learning ability. And research shows that choline may help prevent neural tube defects. Compared with women who get sufficient choline in their diets, women with diets low in choline have four times greater risk of having babies with neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Pregnant women can increase choline intake by consuming more eggsegg yolks are an excellent source of choline, providing about 125 mg, or roughly one-quarter of the recommended daily amount.

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