Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Choline Reduces Birth Defects, Improves Brain Development March 31, 2008

nutrientlinkedtohealthybabies.gifStudies show that, in pregnancy, choline plays a critical role in brain development, and may reduce the risk of neural-tube defects such as spina bifida by as much as fifty percent.

Dr. Gary Shaw, a research director of the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program reported in a paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology (2004), that women whose daily choline intake was greater than 498mg had about half the risk of delivering a baby with a neural-tube defect, compared with expectant mothers whose choline intake was 290mg or less. Surprisingly, this reduction occurred independently of intake of folic acid. “Many of us have been targeting folic acid as the way to prevent birth defects, and this has certainly worked, ” Dr. Shaw says. ” But issues remain as to why it doesn’t work in everyone.”

In pregnancy, choline plays a critical role in brain development by helping regulate the transport of nutrients into and out of cells. It also forms acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory function, according to Dr. Steven Zeisel, a recognized expert in choline, who published his findings in the Journal of Neurochemistry (2004). Choline, a vitamin B-like compound, is found in high quantities in eggs, beef and chicken liver, wheat germ and soybeans. The National Academies of Science recommends nursing mothers increase choline intake to 550mg—the equivalence of two whole eggs.

*For more info on how choline helps during pregnancy, check Big Love, Low Risk: Your Guide to the Healthiest Pregnancy. You’ll also learn how Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease the risk of both post-partum depression and preterm labor. 


2 Responses to “Choline Reduces Birth Defects, Improves Brain Development”

  1. journeytocrunchville Says:

    I’d be interested to see the data where processed milk is high in choline. Milk is actually rather low in choline because the pasteurization all but destroys the naturally occurring choline. On the other hand, raw goats milk and raw cow milk are very high in choline and many other important enzymes, vitamins and nutrients. Even the article published by the Wall Street Journal lists Choline in 2% milk at the bottom of the scale, below chocolate even (see here: I do not dispute the importance of Choline in the diet though I find it ironic that many of our modern food processing destroys these naturally occurring and essential vitamins and minerals. For a side by side comparison of vitamins and nutrients in raw vs processed milk you can see the chart listed here:

  2. rjlacko Says:

    Thanks for the great info. I’ve removed the word “milk” from my list of “high-choline” foods.
    Please note: Unpasteurized dairy products are generally not recommended for expectant mothers; Hormonal changes during pregnancy have an effect on the mother’s immune system that lead to an increased susceptibility to listeriosis.
    That said, beef and chicken liver (choline superstars) are among the last things I might eat, so when I was pregnant, I consumed the majority of my choline intake from eggs, along with an assortment of edamame, chicken, broccoli and wheatgerm.
    Most importantly, I believe choline—and Omega fatty acids—are as valuable as folic acid during pregnancy.

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