February 2009 Archives

February 23, 2009

UK Welcome Trust funds new research into how mother's diet programs baby for health

filed under: General Baby Health Prenatal Choline News Prenatal Choline Research Study
Research into choline and epigenetics is expanding rapidly.  Today there was an announcement by the Welcome Trust in the UK of a new study on how dietary factors (including choline) during pregnancy, impact the long term health of the baby.  I'm sure we'll see a lot more of these over the coming decade. 

Here is the news release:

Experiment of nature' examines how mother's diet may impact on child's health

Could our mother's diet at the time we are conceived set the course for our future health? This intriguing question is at the heart of a new study based on an "experiment of nature" being conducted by Wellcome Trust-funded researchers.

We inherit our DNA the genetic blueprint that determines our make-up from our parents: 50% of our DNA from our mothers and 50% from our fathers. Apart from the occasional mutation, deletion or duplication of information, this DNA remains unchanged between generations.

The environment, for example our diet, whether we smoke, and the toxins that we encounter in our daily life, can cause changes in how our genes are expressed in other words, how they function and these changes can be inherited, even when the DNA sequence itself does not change. These so-called "epigenetic" effects can occur through a process known as DNA methylation, where methyl caps bind to our DNA and act like dimmer switches on our genes.

Now, Dr Branwen Hennig and colleagues from the Medical Research Council (MRC) International Nutrition Group based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have been awarded 360,000 from the Wellcome Trust to look at whether a mother's diet during pregnancy can influence these epigenetic effects.

The study will be conducted at the MRC Laboratories in Keneba, The Gambia, where the seasonal variability of food provides the ideal environment to conduct an "experiment of nature".

"During the 'hungry season' people eat mainly what they have in store, such as cereals and dried food," explains Ms Paula Dominguez-Salas, who will conduct the fieldwork in The Gambia. "They are working in the fields and have a very high energy expenditure, but their intake is very low. The 'harvest season' is the other way round and food, including fresh foods, is in relatively plentiful supply."

The researchers will measure the diets of women in early pregnancy for nutrients which affect methylation, such as folate and choline, and some B vitamins which are essential co-factors in methylation. They will compare these to levels of the nutrients in the women's blood and once the children have been born, the researchers will measure methylation patterns of the babies' DNA. This will help the researchers assess whether there is a correlation between the mother's diet and her nutritional status, and whether there are differences in methylation patterns in babies conceived during the harvest or hungry seasons.

If a mother's diet does affect her offspring's methylation patterns, this could prove very important as epigenetic changes mediated by DNA methylation are likely to have long term effects on the health and physical characteristics of offspring. Animal studies have shown that supplementing the diet of pregnant mice can lead to very marked differences in their offspring with mice fed a folate-depleted diet producing litter with different coat colour or "kinked" tails compared to those fed a diet rich in folate.

"Alterations in DNA methylation are thought to increase the risk of a child developing chronic conditions later in life, such as cardiovascular disease, cancers and type II diabetes," says Dr Hennig. "We think these epigenetic changes are established very early on in the womb."

This will be the first time that the effects of a mother's diet on epigenetic alterations of her children will be studied so extensively. A study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at the effect of wartime blockades in the Netherlands on the nutritional intake of mothers and whether this affected their children's expression of the IGF2 gene, which is involved in growth, as adults. It found that the IGF2 gene had 5 per cent fewer methyl caps in "famine babies" than in their siblings born outside this period. However, the study by Dr Hennig and colleagues will enable the researchers to accurately measure maternal nutritional intake and compare this to methylation patterns in their children.

The study has been welcomed by Dr Alan Schafer, Head of Molecular and Physiological Sciences at the Wellcome Trust.

"This is a very interesting and exciting area of research," says Dr Schafer. "Finding a link between these women's diet and epigenetic changes could ultimately have important implications for our understanding of long term health effects and advice on healthy eating."

Source; Welcome Trust


February 5, 2009

Choline Researcher Zeisel Suggests 850mg the minimum dose during Pregnancy

filed under: Choline Benefits General Baby Health Prenatal Choline News
At a talk at the Oregon Health Sciences University in May, 2007 - one of the top researchers who is focused on Choline (Dr. Steven Zeisel, University of North Carolina) spoke. 

"Dr. Zeisel pointed out that choline is very important for the fetal brain, and can be obtained as a supplement as phosphatidyl choline [obtained via Lecithin].  2-4 eggs per day provide enough choline during pregnancy.  The current daily value is 450 mg, but it would be useful to set the level at 850 mg.   It is like fish oil, having lifelong effect on an infant's early brain development. "
There is an ongoing human study on choline in babies right now - where they are using 900mg doses (in the pregnant mothers).  The US Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine in 1998 came out with a report on choline that suggested the maximum tolerable limit for adults (including pregnant women) is 3.75 grams/day (which is 50% of the level (7 grams/ day) at which researchers had seen any possible negative symptoms in studies.

People I have shared this information with have supplemented their diet (during pregnancy) with between 500mg and 4 grams per day, without any obvious negative symptoms - but the children are still young.  One of the biggest risk factors in this is the quality of the supplements that people take and the risk of possible contamination of the supplements.  Because of this - the researchers I've talked to tend to recommend eggs as the best source of choline (though one researcher recommended high quality Lecithin as a good source).  

Source: (
Linus Pauling Institute meeting, May 2007) Medical Doctor's Research

You can read more about Choline here at the Linus Pauling Institute web site - Choline details