High Prenatal Choline May Prevent Schizophrenia / Mental Illness in Offspring

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This new study shows the potential for prenatal choline to significantly reduce the risk of mental illness in children. While this one study only focuses on schizophrenia, stress hormones during pregnancy (which choline reduces significantly) increases risk of all mental illness - so this approach likely will reduce the incidences of all mental illnesses. This is really big news. 

Notice also the dosing in this study below - 3.6 grams in the morning, and 2.7 grams in the evening. Now that this study has come out, I would take supplements at this level.


University of Colorado researchers study choline in infants

AURORA, Colo. (Jan. 15, 2013) -- Choline, an essential nutrient similar to the B vitamin and found in foods such as liver, muscle meats, fish, nuts and eggs, when given as a dietary supplement in the last two trimesters of pregnancy and in early infancy, is showing a lower rate of physiological schizophrenic risk factors in infants 33 days old. The study breaks new ground both in its potentially therapeutic findings and in its strategy to target markers of schizophrenia long before the illness itself actually appears. Choline is also being studied for potential benefits in liver disease, including chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis, depression, memory loss, Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and certain types of seizures.

Robert Freedman, MD, professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado School of Medicine and one of the study's authors and Editor of The American Journal of Psychiatry, points out, "Genes associated with schizophrenia are common, so prevention has to be applied to the entire population, and it has to be safe. Basic research indicates that choline supplementation during pregnancy facilitates cognitive functioning in offspring. Our finding that it ameliorates some of the pathophysiology associated with risk for schizophrenia now requires longer-term follow-up to assess whether it decreases risk for the later development of illness as well."

Normally, the brain responds fully to an initial clicking sound but inhibits its response to a second click that follows immediately. In schizophrenia patients, deficient inhibition is common and is related to poor sensory filtering and familial transmission of schizophrenia risk. Since schizophrenia does not usually appear until adolescence, this trait--measurable in infancy--was chosen to represent the illness.

Half the healthy pregnant women in this study took 3,600 milligrams of phosphatidylcholine each morning and 2,700 milligrams each evening; the other half took placebo. After delivery, their infants received 100 milligrams of phosphatidylcholine per day or placebo. Eighty-six percent of infants exposed to pre- and postnatal choline supplementation, compared to 43% of unexposed infants, inhibited the response to repeated sounds, as measured with EEG sensors placed on the baby's head during sleep.


The study will be published online by The American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP) at AJP in Advance, its online-ahead-of-print website. The research was funded by the Institute for Children's Mental Disorders, the Anschutz Family Foundation, and the National Institute of Mental Health.


I had the same reaction; I felt comfortable with the high choline dosage once this study emerged. However, I ran it by my OB just in case, and what she said surprised me. I have now spoken to 2 OB doctors and a psychiatrist/professor whose whole focus is schizophrenia research, including studies of schizophrenic pregnant women. All of them shared the same opinion, saying more research is needed before we can be confident these supplements are safe for pregnancy.

One of the OB's was in maternal fetal medicine, and she said it was up to us, but she would not do it because there is much we do not know about epigenetics and the subtle effects this could have on development. My primary OB put it like this, if a particular treatment has a risk of 1 in 1000, a study of this size could totally miss it.

The psychiatrist/researcher I contacted said that the results need to be replicated, and that sensory gating (which is what this study looked for) is not a very robust indicator for later development of schizophrenia. He also agreed that it's not known for sure if supplementation is safe. He said "it's probably safe, but we just don't know, so I would find it hard to recommend supplementing. Much more study is needed."

The fact that they all agreed gave me pause, and they made some great points that hadn't occurred to me. Given this, I don't think I feel comfortable taking the supplement, but I'm going to give it some more thought, and I'm interested to hear other people's reactions to this.

My current thought -- I can lower my cortisol levels other ways, through exercise and meditation, and I can focus on eating healthy foods that contain choline.

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