Choline and Pregnancy

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When it comes to pregnancy and the critical nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy, it’s well known that folate is right up at the top of the list. Folate is heralded for its ability to prevent neural tube defects and other problems that can compromise a pregnancy or have lasting health impacts for the child. Iodine is becoming more well known as an essential nutrient for pregnant women to supplement with – due to the widespread iodine deficiency in Western countries.

But what about those women who still have children with neural tube defects despite taking folate before and during their pregnancy? Some interesting research is pointing to other nutrients being just as important as folate – and one such nutrient is choline. Choline has been found to prevent neural tube defects in a folate-replete population – meaning it could be the missing nutrient for many women with hereditary neural tube defects that aren’t prevented by supplemental folate.

Choline is a nutrient found in eggs, meat, leafy greens and some legumes like chick peas. Choline is a precursor to acetylcholine – an important neurotransmitter for cognitive function and memory. It’s also vital for production of phosphotidylcholine – an important component of cell membranes and required for proper cell replication. Women can become very depleted of this nutrient during pregnancy and breastfeeding when demands are extraordinarily high – compromised cognitive function and memory is considered “normal” in pregnancy (baby-brain anyone?) it’s not a sign of a woman who is thriving and can potentially be reduced or reversed by correcting any choline deficiency that is present.

It’s very difficult to get an adequate dose from diet, let alone a therapeutic dose. One study looked at how well infants could think, process and respond to stimulus and found that infants who were exposed to higher levels of choline during pregnancy could think quicker than their counterparts who didn’t have the extra choline. The doses in that study were 950mg per day, and that definitely requires a supplement to get daily choline intake so high. In pregnant and breastfeeding women, a lack of choline leading to deficits in thinking and processing capacity is often referred to baby-brain, ensuring adequate intake of choline can go a long way to supporting not just the brain and thinking power of the baby, but also protect mum’s brain and ability to think clearly.

Look for a pre-conception or pregnancy multi that contains at least 100mg choline, and focus on getting as much choline as you can from your diet to set yourself up for a healthier pregnancy. Also remember that during breastfeeding – your nutrient requirements are higher than pregnancy, and you should continue to take your multivitamin throughout the breastfeeding and post-partum period.

Clare Pyers