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A diet high in choline during pregnancy may mean less stress for baby (8/12/2012)

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New research from Cornell University indicates that pregnant women who increase choline intake in the third trimester of pregnancy may reduce the risk of the baby developing metabolic and chronic stress-related diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes later in life.(i) The results, published in the latest edition of the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, suggest that choline, a nutrient found in high quantities in eggs, may help protect against the effects of a mother's stress during pregnancy. Previous research indicates high exposure to the stress hormone cortisol during pregnancy, often due to maternal anxiety or depression, may make offspring vulnerable to stress-induced illness and chronic conditions.(ii, iii) This finding adds to the growing body of evidence demonstrating the importance of choline in fetal development.

A Closer Look at the Study

Twenty-four women in the third trimester of pregnancy were randomly assigned to consume either 480 milligrams (mg) choline per day or 930 mg per day for 12 weeks prior to delivery. Researchers collected maternal and placental blood samples as well as samples of placental tissue. They then compared cortisol levels and genetic differences among all the samples. The researchers observed lower levels of cortisol in the placental cord and changes in cortisol-regulating genes in both the placental and fetal tissue among women in the higher choline intake group. "The study findings raise the exciting possibility that a higher maternal choline intake may counter some of the adverse effects of prenatal stress on behavioral, neuroendocrine, and metabolic development in the offspring," says Marie Caudill, PhD, Cornell University, who is an author of the study and a leading choline researcher.

Choline: A Vital Nutrient

Choline is especially important for pregnant women - it 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. In addition, research shows women with diets low in choline have four times greater risk of having babies with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.(iv)

Emerging research also shows choline may have additional benefits in other areas, including:

  • Breast cancer prevention: A study funded by the National Institutes of Health concluded that dietary choline is associated with a 24 percent reduced risk of breast cancer.(v)
  • Anti-inflammatory: Foods rich in choline may help reduce the risk of inflammation associated with chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, bone loss, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.(vi)
  • Brain function: Choline also promotes adult brain function by preserving the structure of brain cell membranes and is an essential component of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter involved in memory function and muscle control.(vii)

The Incredible Excellent Source of Choline

Despite its important role in the body, only one in 10 Americans is meeting the Adequate Intake (AI) guidelines for choline.(viii) Eggs are an excellent source of choline, containing 125 mg per egg. Neva Cochran, registered dietitian and nutrition communications consultant, explains that the nutritional benefits of eggs are not merely limited to choline. "Not only are eggs an excellent source of choline, they contain many other nutrients pregnant women need most, such as high-quality protein, iron and folate-all for just about 15 cents apiece," says Cochran. In order to get adequate amounts of choline, Cochran suggests the following tips:

  • Find it in Food: A great way to get your daily dose of choline is to include choline-rich foods in the diet, such as eggs, lean beef, cauliflower and peanuts. Also keep in mind most multivitamins, even prenatal vitamins, provide far less than the Adequate Intake for choline.
  • Don't Skip the Yolk: Choline is found exclusively in the egg yolk, not the white. Nearly half of the protein and most of the vitamins and minerals are also contained in the yolk.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by the Edelman Public Relations

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