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Maternal Choline Supplementation May Enhance Babies' Brains

Updated 21 December 2018
Connie Packer

Smart Baby Brain

When a cousin contacted me this week for guidance on choosing a prenatal vitamin, I was reminded of the hefty responsibility that I felt when I was planning to carry a baby. Prenatal nutrition can influence a child’s whole life and even following generations. A pregnant mother finds herself trying to provide the best nutrition for her baby, while balancing budget, morning sickness, and food cravings. And fewer nutrition studies are done with pregnant women because of the risk of causing harm to the baby.

The first study, discussed below, involves pregnant women and dietary choline, which is often supplemented as Alpha GPC or CDP Choline. Choline is important for neurotransmitters, cell membranes, methylation, and lipid metabolism. It is involved with the same methylation pathways as folate, B6, B12, and homocysteine. Choline can be synthesized by the body but the body is not able to produce enough to fulfill its demand, and trying to do so would be at the cost of SAMe. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for choline during pregnancy was calculated using a study of men receiving nutrition through their veins with the goal of providing enough choline to prevent liver damage, and adding the estimated amount of choline contained in a placenta and fetus. That recommended intake, determined in 1998, is aimed at preventing disease, not maximizing wellbeing.

Choline may improve the cognitive function of a developing brain. Maternal choline supplementation during the third trimester of pregnancy improves infant information processing speed: a randomized, double-blind, controlled feeding study. This study recruited 26 women in their third trimester of pregnancy and fed them diets controlled for nutrients like B6, B12, and folic acid. The participants were split between receiving a diet with 480 mg/day of choline (450 mg/day is considered an adequate intake by the DRI) or receiving 930 mg/day of choline. Infants were tested for information processing speed and visuospatial memory at 4, 7, 10, and 13 months old. The scores were higher for the group receiving more choline. The scores also tended to be higher for infants who were exposed to the higher choline diet for longer. This study suggests that infants may experience cognitive benefits from mothers eating more than the recommended amount of choline during pregnancy.

Omega 3 may enhance sperm function. Effect of dietary supplementation with a highly pure and concentrated docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplement on human sperm function. Factors affecting male fertility are starting to get more attention in research. This study involved 60 men struggling with infertility and sperm count of at least 10 million, sperm motility less than 60%, and normal sperm morphology less than 2%. Participants received a placebo (.5 g primrose oil) or 0.5 g, 1 g, or 2 g DHA, in triglyceride form, daily for 3 months. Sperm samples were collected at the beginning, after 1 month, and after 3 months of supplementation. Although sperm count and percent immotility did not change, progressive motility increased and non-progressive motility decreased. The effect was more evident in men with asthenozoospermia (sperm motility <40%). Receiving more DHA daily resulted in significant results sooner. DHA supplementation improved sperm motility, potentially improving fertility status.

Omega 3 may mitigate inclination to physical aggression. Omega-3 supplements reduce self-reported physical aggression in healthy adults. This study involved 194 adults, aged 18-54, in France, who were not currently taking omega 3 supplements or undergoing medical treatment. Basically, these were ordinary people in society. Participants were assigned to either a placebo (1410 mg copra oil) or daily treatment with 638 mg DHA and 772 mg EPA for six weeks. Before supplementation began and after the 6 weeks of supplementation, participants completed the physical aggression part of the Aggression Questionnaire. In this questionnaire, participants rated, on a scale of 1 to 5, how characteristic a statement was of them over the last month. Examples of statements include: “Given enough provocation, I may hit another person”, and “If I have to resort to violence to protect my rights, I will”. The physical aggression scores improved and were both statistically significant and practically significant, meaning the amount of improvement was not a trivial. I found the discussion part of this report interesting. The authors recommended that future research include correlations between aggressiveness scores, blood levels of omega 3, and the presence of genetic variations such as ApoE4, to test subjects under actual stressful conditions, and to look at other types of aggressiveness like verbal aggressiveness because it may be more prevalent in general society.

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