The women were instructed to take either 930 milligrams or 480 mg of choline per day. The participants' choline intake was closely monitored, as the nutrient's metabolism and functions may overlap with other essential nutrients including vitamin B12, folic acid, and vitamin B6.
“In animal models using rodents, there’s widespread agreement that supplementing the maternal diet with additional amounts of this single nutrient has lifelong benefits on offspring cognitive function. Our study provides some evidence that a similar result is found in humans,” study author Marie Caudill said in a Newswise release.
The researchers then subjected the infants from both groups to a series of information processing speed and visuospatial memory tests at four, seven, 10 and 13 months of age. The scientists found that while the babies in both groups exhibited cognitive improvements, information processing speeds were significantly faster in babies born to mothers who had high choline intake.
The health experts added that the current recommendations for daily choline intake might not be enough to produce optimal cognitive benefits in infants, as they were mostly based on the amount needed to stave off liver dysfunction.
“A prudent approach would be to increase dietary choline intake by consuming more animal source foods during pregnancy – egg yolks, lean red meats, fish and poultry. For women who restrict animal-sourced foods, consuming a choline supplement that provides choline at a level comparable to 450 mg/day may be needed,” Caudill told Cornell Chronicle online.
The recent study adds to a growing body of research linking choline to a plethora of health benefits. In fact, a 2012 study by the same author revealed that daily choline intake during pregnancy might reduce a child's risk of developing diabetes and heart disease later in life. The study focused on a group of pregnant women in their third trimester who took either 930 mg or 480 mg of choline daily during the 12-week study. (Related: Choline Deficiency during Pregnancy may lead to Birth Defects.)
The researchers found that babies born to mothers who had higher choline intake had a 33 percent lower cortisol concentrations than those born to mothers with lower choline intake. The scientists explained that cortisol is a stress response hormone that also simultaneously increases blood sugar levels.
"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. A dampening of the baby's response to stress as a result of mom consuming extra choline during pregnancy would be expected to reduce the risk of stress-related diseases such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes throughout the life of the child," Caudill reported online.
Caudill inferred that choline might have increased the number of methyl groups attached to placental DNA, which then altered the expression of genetic patterns that carry out cortisol production. The mechanism may be especially beneficial for women suffering from pre-eclampsia, anxiety, and depression during their pregnancy, the expert added.
"We hope that our data will inform the development of choline intake recommendations for pregnant women that ensure optimal fetal development and reduce the risk of stress-related diseases," she concluded.
The results were also published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.