Choline: A super nutrient for pregnancy and beyond
What is choline?
Choline is an essential nutrient. Our bodies are able to produce some, however in order to get adequate amounts it must be obtained through the diet. Choline is a water-soluble and not a vitamin or a mineral. It supports overall health and many bodily processes, especially metabolism and growth.
What makes choline so important during pregnancy?
· It is a precursor for acetylcholine, which means it is needed for its production. Acetylcholine is involved in learning, memory, cognition, synapse formation, muscle movement, and regulating your heartbeat.
· It is a primary dietary source of methyl groups. This makes it important for gene expression & DNA formation. All very important when growing and developing a baby.
· Needed for cell division, growth, myelination
· The human fetus receives a large supply of choline in pregnancy and depletes maternal supply (making this nutrient extra important during pregnancy AND the postpartum period).
· Choline not found in many prenatal supplements or regular multivitamins & demands are increased during pregnancy (keep an eye out for prenatal supplements that contain choline, I share a few below).
· Maternal choline is depleted during lactation (baby needs choline for growth and development and it is transmitted through breastmilk). This means mama needs more!
Do I need to supplement during pregnancy? What the research has found.
1) Choline supplementation in pregnant women in their 3rd trimester at a level above the current adequate intake recommendations leads to improved infant cognitive function (Caudill et al., 2018).
2) A recent review study (Hunter et al., 2019) found choline played an important role in postpartum health, placental function, cognitive development of baby, and protection of neural insults. Studies have found prenatal choline supplementation may help prevent neural tube defects (NTDs).
3) Research has found choline to be particularly important in early pregnancy (to support placental growth, maternal organ health, and reduce NTDs). In addition, it appears to be important during the third trimester when the fetus is undergoing extreme rapid growth and large amounts of choline are needed for membrane biosynthesis. (Caudill et al., 2010).
Bottom line: finding a prenatal supplement that contains some amount of choline may be helpful. See my suggestions below.
You can also be sure to include choline rich foods in your diet regularly during early pregnancy and especially in your third trimester.
Foods rich in choline:
High Sources: (~60mg/100g):
Meats- Beef, chicken, fish, pork, salmon, cod
Moderate Sources (~25mg/100g):
Maternal choline is typically depleted during lactation, which means needs are greater while breastfeeding.
Human milk contains large amounts of choline and therefore depletion happens quickly.
A study by Davenport and colleagues (2015) found that lactation induces metabolic adaptations in choline metabolism to provide more choline to mammary glands for use in breast milk. Thus contributing to the higher choline content in human milk, this is beneficial for cognitive function and development of baby. Lactating women exhibited greater use of choline as a methyl donor and depleted more choline-related end products vs. non lactating women.
Bottom line: your needs are greater postpartum especially when breastfeeding. Be sure to be eating choline rich foods regularly AND using a supplement that contains choline.
How much choline do you need?
Adult women need about 425mg/day
Pregnant women need about 930 mg/day (a huge increase in needs)
Breastfeeding women need about 550 mg/day
My favourite choline containing prenatal supplements:
1) Prenatal SAP: https://nfh.ca/product/prenatal-sap/
2) Baby & Me 2: https://megafoodcanada.com/store/product/baby-me-2
3) Canprev Prenatal: https://canprev.ca/products/prenatal-multi/
Eggs are one of the best food sources of choline. In fact, in just 2 eggs you will get about 230 mg of choline.
Click here to get 3 of my favourite egg based recipes.
Have more questions about nutrients and needs during pregnancy and post baby? Send me a message and let's chat!
Until next time,
Caudill, M. A. (2010). Pre- and Postnatal Health: Evidence of Increased Choline Needs. https://www-sciencedirect-com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/science/article/pii/S0002822310005298?via%3Dihub
Caudill, M. A. (2018). Maternal choline supplementation during the thirdtrimester of pregnancy improves infant informationprocessing speed: a randomized, double-blind,controlled feeding study. https://faseb-onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/doi/epdf/10.1096/fj.201700692RR
Davenport, C. (2015). Choline intakes exceeding recommendations during human lactation improve breast milk choline content by increasing PEMT pathway metabolites. https://www-sciencedirect-com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/science/article/pii/S0955286315000777?via%3Dihub
Hunter, K. (2019). Choline: Exploring the Growing Science on Its Benefits for Moms and Babies. https://www-proquest-com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/docview/2302371244?OpenUrlRefId=info:xri/sid:primo&accountid=11233