Study Indicates that Moderate Prenatal Choline Doesn't Help Children's Brains

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I communicated by email with the study PI (Primary Investigator) Steven Zeisel on this new study.  He's been pretty vocal in the past with his students (his students have told me), recommending 1.5 grams+ per day of choline for human consumption during pregancy.  

In this study he said his IRB would only allow the 750 mg dosing - so I guess he was hoping for it to be successful even at that lower level. Ultimately he didn't have a choice - since he couldn't proceed without his IRB's approval.

Unfortunately it was too low to see the beneficial impact on the brain.  Now that another study (see study identified in posting below) has come out with a dosing of over 5 grams per day I hope that his IRB allows a higher dosing level.


Taking approximately 800 mg a day of choline during pregnancy does not improve babies' language and memory skills, according to a new study.

The results contrast with earlier studies in animals showing that a choline boost in utero improves rodents' performance on memory tasks. 

Earlier studies have found that pregnant women with very low levels of choline in their diet have a higher chance of delivering a baby with a birth defect. And adults who eat a choline-rich diet perform better on memory tests 

To see if adding extra choline during pregnancy can offer any benefits to babies, Zeisel and his colleagues asked 99 pregnant women to take six pills every day, beginning when they were 18 weeks pregnant and continuing until three months after the baby was born.

Fifty of the moms received fake pills containing corn oil, while 49 received pills with 833 milligrams (mg) of phosphatidylcholine, a form of choline.

The phosphatidylcholine pills added up to 750 mg of choline each day, the equivalent of 170 percent of the recommended level for pregnant women and 140 percent of the recommended daily amount for breastfeeding moms.

When the children were 10 and 12 months old, Zeisel's team gave them a battery of tests to measure short and long term memory, language skills and general development.

There were no differences between the two groups on any of the tests, the team reports in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Marie Caudill, a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who was not involved in the current research, said the study was well conducted, but she offered a number of reasons that might explain the discrepancy between the animal studies and the current findings.

One possibility is that the babies were not tracked long enough to see any differences in their abilities.

"The animal studies demonstrated (that) supplementing the maternal diet with extra choline during pregnancy resulted in lasting beneficial effects on cognitive functioning in the adult offspring and prevented age-related cognitive decline," Caudill told Reuters Health by email.

Additionally, the type of choline used - phosphatidylcholine - might be less effective than choline itself. (Zeisel's group chose not to use choline because it can result in a fishy body odor.)

In addition, the tests may not be "sufficiently challenging," Caudill added.

Zeisel agreed that perhaps as children age and start to perform more complex mental processing, it might be easier to measure if a child has a deficit or a strength.

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