Recently in Choline Risks Category

May 10, 2013

Downsides / Risks of High Choline Kids

filed under: Choline Risks Personal Experience
People always ask me what the downside of having high-choline kids (i.e. kids with better memories, higher IQ, less anxiety, etc.) - generally there have not been many I can think of.  One area where I think increasingly that there might be a risk of a downside is in the area highlighted in the research below.  Generally - high choline kids seem to have much higher thresholds for fear; it takes more to get them frightened of a situation.  I think this is probably a positive thing in most situations.  But research is starting to tease out some negatives too.  Here is, I think, one area where parents of high choline kids need to be aware of a risk.  New research is showing the lower fear responsiveness is associated with higher risk of aggression.  

While at first this might seem like a strange association --  what has fear got to do with aggression?  But - when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.  If someone is more afraid or concerned about how other people might react to their behavior, they are going to be more careful about being aggressive because they are afraid of the results.  If you lack that fear - you might be more aggressive because you aren't afraid of the repercussions (at least not initially).  

I see this sometimes in my own kids - the higher tendency towards aggression at times.  The best example I can think of is when they did a trial playdate as part of our younger child's entry into the the preschool we applied to (and which our older child attends).  Its a Mandarin immersion preschool - and perhaps 60% are children of Chinese-origin parents, while 30% are mixed race (Chinese / Caucasion typically) and then a minority are pure Caucasian like ourselves.  I note this only because it seems to me that there is a tendency towards higher levels of anxiety in Chinese children - if only because their parents seem to have such demanding standards in terms of behaviors and academic standards.  I also note this because during the "evaluation" play date (imagine a classroom with a dozen 2 year olds playing in a room with lots of toys, and half a dozen teachers and maybe a psychologist or two, taking notes on all the behaviors of the kids for an hour) - only our child yelled out loud (a couple of times during the hour) that the toy his friend was playing with was actually his and he wanted it back.  

All the other kids barely interacted with anyone else - they played by themselves and avoided the other children, for the most part.  My child was the one yelling at the other kid (a child of a friend of ours - and they have fought before over toys when we've been together - so that may also be a factor).

Anyway - perhaps something to be wary of - as high choline kids are definitely less fearful than the average kid.

Infants' Sweat Response Predicts Aggressive Behavior as Toddlers

Infants who sweat more in response to scary situations at age 1 show less physical and verbal aggression at age 3. 

Apr. 23, 2013 -- Infants who sweat less in response to scary situations at age 1 show more physical and verbal aggression at age 3, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Lower levels of sweat, as measured by skin conductance activity (SCA), have been linked with conduct disorder and aggressive behavior in children and adolescents. Researchers hypothesize that aggressive children may not experience as strong of an emotional response to fearful situations as their less aggressive peers do; because they have a weaker fear response, they are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior.

Psychological scientist Stephanie van Goozen of Cardiff University and colleagues wanted to know whether the link between low SCA and aggressive behaviors could be observed even as early as infancy.

To investigate this, the researchers attached recording electrodes to infants' feet at age 1 and measured their skin conductance at rest, in response to loud noises, and after encountering a scary remote-controlled robot. They also collected data on their aggressive behaviors at age 3, as rated by the infants' mothers.

The results revealed that 1 year-old infants with lower SCA at rest and during the robot encounter were more physically and verbally aggressive at age 3.

Interestingly, SCA was the only factor in the study that predicted later aggression. The other measures taken at infancy -- mothers' reports of their infants' temperament, for instance -- did not predict aggression two years later.

These findings suggest that while a physiological measure (SCA) taken in infancy predicts aggression, mothers' observations do not.

"This runs counter to what many developmental psychologists would expect, namely that a mother is the best source of information about her child," van Goozen notes.

At the same time, this research has important implications for intervention strategies:

"These findings show that it is possible to identify at-risk children long before problematic behavior is readily observable," van Goozen concludes. "Identifying precursors of disorder in the context of typical development can inform the implementation of effective prevention programs and ultimately reduce the psychological and economic costs of antisocial behavior to society."

Co-authors on this research include Erika Baker, Katherine Shelton, Eugenia Baibazarova, and Dale Hay of Cardiff University.

This research was supported by studentships from the School of Psychology, Cardiff University, and by a grant from the Medical Research Council.


April 28, 2012

Questions from Blog readers - My Personal Experiences...

filed under: Choline Benefits Choline Risks Personal Experience

I get questions occasionally from blog readers - here is one recent question from someone I've emailed with before.

"Hope all is going well for you, we corresponded last fall and I wanted to possibly ask you some questions about your post in January.  According to your site the pharmacist recommends starting at day 56 during pregnancy with the increased amounts of choline (around 3.5 grams) and then continue at this increased amount, or at least elevated amounts until age four correct?  I am currently supplementing at 1200 mg choline bitartrate once daily, yielding 480 mg of choline by molecular weight. (We aren't planning on trying to conceive till next summer) I plan on starting on day 56 during the gestational period, supplementing at 3600 mg choline bitartrate yielding approximately 1440 mg choline by weight.  Do you think I should adjust this amount and increase it to at least 1500 mg or more?  Also did you see this article? ( thought you might be interested. 

I had one more question in mind to ask you, which unfortunately will be totally subjective and essentially anecdotal from you, but in giving your children high choline diets, and seeing them perhaps be somewhat fearless, does this concern you to any degree in their future decision making capabilities.  And also specifically when it comes to mood, anxiety, and empathy do you feel as though perhaps the choline has had any effect?

Here is my response:


"The pharmacist that took the class with Steven Zeisel - the top researcher on Choline  - said that Zeisel in his classes (I think about a decade ago) recommended at least 1.5 grams of choline (and by that he meant the actual amount of choline - not a precursor) starting at day 56 (new research is also showing that taking choline prior to and early in pregnancy reduces risk of neural tube defects) .  So - I think somewhere between 1.5 grams/day and the Tolerable upper limit that we did of 3.5 grams is what I would do if I had another child (and given our success with 3.5 grams/day before - I'd probably do it at this level again, if not a little higher).

One thing I would change given my discussions with other parents who have supplemented at higher rates -and their results - is that I would now do the following now:

1.       I would take at least 75% (and as much as 100%) of whatever type of choline you take (or a minimum of 1.5 grams/day)  in Lecithin form (i.e. phosphatidylcholine).  Probably the Triple strength lecithin that some manufacturers offer, or just mix in the lecithin granules as other parents have done (and I do with my kids).  This is due to two things - I've talked to one other parent (obviously - a very small sample size - but all of this is based on fundamental research in mammals with larger numbers - but small numbers in humans) - and it seems that with higher lecithin (or specifically phosphotidylcholine) - you get possibly more of an effect.  Also - much of the research data I've read uses either choline chloride or phosphatidylcholine - and since you can't in all practicality use choline chloride (it tastes terrible) - I think that phosphatidylcholine is the best way to go.  There really has been no research to my knowledge on the effectiveness of choline bitartrate or other forms of choline - in this type of application - so its uncharted territory (not that its likely to be unsafe - just not as effective).

        I say this because another parent I've been talking to did simply Lecithin supplementation - and has gotten the same positive results with their daughter as our first child - ie. very significant results.  Our second child did not have as significant results it seems right now (its hard to tell - the second child started walking at 9 months - so just as good as the first child, but the second child's verbal development is lagging significantly the first child's - still above average - but not as good as the first child's.  There are a number of confounding variables that make the link directly with type of choline a difficult one;  namely my wife caught the flu during her pregnancy during the end of her first trimester with the second child - and flu during pregnancy is well known to have a negative impact on IQ and brain development - so that could be the issue.  And the other 25% in choline bitartrate.  In our first pregnancy we started with 100% Lecithin choline  - about 1 gram a day before pregnancy and 1 gram during the first trimester.  Then we ramped it up - and then at some point fairly early on I found some research that suggested some negative potential issues with  higher levels of Soy Lecithin .. I think in some studies done in the mid-1980s it was at the level of 15 grams a day of Lecithin/day - and so that scared me to lowering the Lecithin - and going to 50% each on Lecithin Choline, and 50% Choline Bitartrate.  And that's what we did on the second child. 

2.       I can't "recommend" anything related to choline  to you - I'm just sharing with people our experiences and as much science behind our decision and ongoing developments in this area because I think it has the potential to help a lot of people, and make the world a better place.  I can tell you what I'd do if I was to have another child - but beyond that, it's a very personal decision.  There are risks associated with this type of thing -  there isn't much human data / studies on this supplementation program, but I think the data that I do see, and the information I've gotten from the researchers in private discussions suggests that they think the risk of negative results is very low.  So - make your own choice given your personal risk profile. Or do more research if you aren't comfortable with the lack of solid research.  This is your child - its a big deal.  Don't take these decisions lightly.  One of the key reasons that we ended up supplementing at the higher levels of choline is because my wife was quite stressed at work during the first pregnancy (it was during the whole financial meltdown) and I know that a lot of research indicates that higher stress levels has very negative impacts on the brain of the baby during pregnancy - so we were using the choline as a risk reduction strategy against a very well known negative factor - Stress during pregnancy (Stress during pregnancy  is very well known to lower intelligence, and increase risk of mental illness -- because it seems to change the developmental process of the HPA axis in the brain, which is strongly linked to mental illness) - so Look at the big picture.  My personal belief is that perhaps the biggest benefit of high levels of choline during pregnancy is that it greatly reduces the risk of mental illness in children of mothers who are anxious or who experience higher stress levels during pregnancy.

         On the transgenerational effects of antibiotics and the link you sent to me - I think that we'll be learning a lot about epigenetics over the coming decade and longer.  This is one example  - but there are many others.  I think the research on epigenetics would suggest that the impact of higher levels of choline would be similarly transgenerational - but I haven't seen any data on this.  Its an interesting question.

3.       On the issue of Choline potentially making the kids lower anxiety, and more fearless  (see the recent posting in my blog about the Cornell research).  That's an interesting question - certainly it can be positive or a negative situation depending upon the environment.  If our kids are in a less safe environment and they are not predisposed to anxiety they may miss certain clues or take risks that cause problems.  So that is a concern.  At the same time - what I've seen so far in our kids is that - at least with the older child - the increased intelligence/memory seems to more than outweight that potential issue - as she learns quickly and avoids issues so that seems to mitigate the risk significantly.  Our younger child its too early to tell .  Generally my opinion is that people in today's world are far more anxious than the environment would suggest.  Due to a lot of negative TV news in the US - I think the general perception is that we live in a dangerous society (and certainly in parts of the US, and parts of the world, things are still very dangerous ) - but the research I've seen suggests that we generally vastly over-rate the "danger" that we face in modern society.  Generally - we are much safer than we were 50 years ago, and probably much, much safer than we were 100 years ago.  So my person vote is the intelligence/memory is going to be more important and more valuable than a higher propensity to anxiety and fear.  Its really a person "bet" on what the world will look like when our kids are 20 to 50 years old - so obviously a difficult forecast for anyone.  Anxiety can be valuable in a risky, dangerous world - I'm hoping that we're going to continue to move away from that direction in the next 50 years. We'll see.

4.       On the mood/anxiety/empathy - I think our kids are lower anxiety, generally much less shy, more outgoing than most kids.  Our children have never displayed much stranger anxiety - as many of our peer's children have.  Our 3.5 year old child enthusiastically picks up spiders, snakes, crabs, etc. - and plays with them (with reasonable care), without any issues.  My wife is not so predisposed.  I encourage the lack of fear in these areas - I tend to think that a more fearless perspective on life is probably a good thing generally.  As far as empathy - I think that's something that you teach a child - they'll be as empathetic as you are to their needs and experiences.  I think High-choline kids learn quicker - so if you have a stressful / unempathetic environment - they might learn from these negative experiences faster than the average kid - but I don't think choline has any impact on something like empathy directly.

Hope that helps,

Admin  (AT)


December 28, 2011

Questions from Readers about Choline, Pregnancy, Children and Lecithin

filed under: Choline Risks Personal Experience
I just got the following email question to me about possible issues around children and choline.  Here is the email message:

I am wondering whether you have researched these. The pediatrician told us not to give our son more than 1 egg per day, and mayo clinic agrees with this. The problem is the yolk, one yolk has the equivalent of max cholesterol level that one can take per day. The risk is serious heart diseases from clogged arteries later in life. I also looked into soy lecithin as a source of choline, and what worries me is that soy (and thus soy lecithin) is laden with female hormones. There are some research articles indicating that the hormones in soy can lead to early puberty in females, and later puberty in males, along with the potential health consequences. 

Please let me know your thoughts and/or finding. Also if there are any good sources of choline that is not from egg yolk or soy lecithin, I'll be interested to learn about it. Thanks! 


Here is my response:

Hi Juliana,

I have done some research on those topics.  First of all - the research on high choline levels suggests that it only helps if it is delivered during pregnancy, and during the first 2 to 3 years of life.  So if your son is older than that - the research suggests that there won't be any impact on memory.

With regard to phyto-estrogens in Lecithin - the studies I've seen have indicated that there are no measurable phyto-estrogens in Lecithin - here are some studies that I've looked at:,%20Including%20Isoflavones,%20Lignans,%20and%20Coumestrol,%20in%20Nonvitamin,%20Nonmineral%20Supplements%20.pdf

There was another I looked at also - but I can't find it quickly.  Generally I search on for all the latest research.

But I just found this - which is interesting - which suggests we might want to be careful with any children's food:

So - perhaps many children's foods have soy estrogens. 

With regard to cholesterol levels - I believe that any guidelines for children are only relevant to children over the age of 2 years, so I haven't really put much emphasis on them.  Here is an example of this:

We've been using only eggs yolks and soy-lecithin for our children and it seems fine.  Children doing extremely well so far.  Of course - that doesn't mean that there might not be problems, and there haven't been any long term tests - so its reasonable to be cautious.

We use this Soy Lecithin product:

and mix it into oatmeal, etc.

 Hope that is helpful,

admin (at)


April 9, 2010

Choline during Pregnancy and Later Sensitivity of Child

filed under: Choline Benefits Choline Risks Personal Experience
I've read quite a bit of the research on how Choline and other B-vitamins (when taken during pregnancy) add methyl groups to the child's DNA - allowing over expression of some genes (thus the better memory), and reducing expression of other genes.

Some researchers I've talked to have seen in their research that when they subject pregnant rodents (mice and rat models that are predisposed to what seem to be schizophrenia and autism ) to moderate stress over multiple generations - there are very high rates of disease and disorders.  When they feed these same strains of mice and rats Choline during the pregnancy - they eliminate this risk.

I've also read about research stress demethylates genes (removes methyl groups) - and stress and poor nutrition during pregnancy could result in 5% or higher rates of demethylation - which, I hear, is a huge impact on the mammal's (mice or humans) genes.  Research I've read also suggests that rates of anxiety and fear significantly increase in mammals (animals and humans) that have experienced high rates of stress during pregnancy and during early life.  In fact I've also read that early life stresses (poverty, stressful family environment, etc.) greatly increases the risk of PTSD later in life (a fact that has been born out in studies of army vets, I believe). 

All of this I find very interesting - because in our own child we see, I believe, the positive impact of high levels of choline during pregnancy.  One of the most visible and common situations I see this in, is if our baby boy (now 17 months) stays up past his normal bedtime - which happens occasionally when we are traveling, or visiting with friends on the weekend for a dinner party.  What I find very interesting - and which I suspect is in part due to the extra choline during pregnancy that my wife took - is that while after a certain time all our friend's children start "melting down" and becoming very sensitive and prone to crying  - our child just keeps on playing and exploring like it is mid-day.  As our child gets more tired - his mood doesn't change much.  We see him start rubbing his eyes a bit - but for the most part you couldn't tell if he had just woken up from a nap, or has been up for 8 hours.  He's still just a happy, playful little boy.  Its interesting because on occasion we've gone to afternoon parties with our group of friends who have young kids - and our child is always the last one standing, sometimes until 10pm at night (his usual bedtime is between 6:30pm and 7:30pm) with no crying, no increased sensitivity - and no problems.  Our other friends have to start putting their kids to bed at 7:30 or so as they start becoming more sensitive and crying more frequently. 

Now - I also suspect that the increase in Choline during pregnancy might have some downside.  One downside I suspect is that these children are less prone to fear - which in many situations might be good - but in which many situations might also be not so good. 

What got me thinking about this recently was when were visiting friends the other day and were sitting at the dinner table. I was sitting on a bench seat with my son beside me and windows immediately behind us.  While I was eating, he turned around - reached as high as he could - and proceeded to climb up on the window using his fingertips on a 1 inch ledge, and his feet on another 1 inch ledge (if you've ever rock-climbed, you'd recognize this as a classic "front-pointing" stance).  He had his little running shoes and was totally happy hanging out hanging by his finger tips and toes.  No problem, no fear.  One side of me thinks "great - he'll be a good rock climber" - but the other side of me knows that a healthy fear is a good thing.  I'm not sure yet what this experience indicates yet - but it bears more monitoring.   


September 18, 2008

Rodent studies suggest Choline and similar vitamins may increase risk of allergic asthma

filed under: Choline Risks Prenatal Choline Research Study
A new research study suggests that there may be an increased risk of allergies for babies that are exposed to a high methyl-donor diet (vitamins like choline, folic acid and vitamin B) during pregnancy.

A press release from the researchers noted:

A pregnant mouse's diet can induce epigenetic changes that increase the risk her offspring will develop allergic asthma, according to researchers at National Jewish Health and Duke University Medical Center. Pregnant mice that consumed diets high in supplements containing methyl-donors, such as folic acid, had offspring with more severe allergic airway disease than offspring from mice that consumed diets low in methyl-containing foods. The results of the study are being published Sept. 18, 2008, in the online version of the Journal of Clinical Investigation and will appear in the October print issue.

"Our findings suggest that a mother's diet that alters DNA methylation can affect the development of the fetus's immune system, predisposing it to allergic airway disease," said David Schwartz, MD, senior author on the paper and Professor of Medicine at National Jewish Health. "It also suggests the dramatic increase in asthma during the past two decades may be related in part to recent changes in dietary supplementation among women of childbearing age."

The prevalence of asthma has nearly doubled in the past 25 years. Asthma currently affects about 11 percent of the US population and accounts for $9.4 billion in direct healthcare costs. Although both genes and environment are believed to play a role in the development of asthma, scientists have been unable to definitively identify specific causes of the disease or explain the rise in prevalence.

Epigenetics is the study of gene regulation. Environmental exposures can lead to modification of methyl groups (CH3) binding to certain DNA molecules, which can result in modified expression of specific genes. A variety of environmental factors, including diet, tobacco smoke, and medications, can modify methyl groups binding to DNA, particularly during periods of vulnerability. Although no changes occur in the genetic code, epigenetic effects can be passed to offspring. Emerging research has indicated that epigenetic mechanisms can affect the development of the immune system, skewing it either toward or away from a predisposition to allergies.

The research team decided to examine the potential role of epigenetics in the development of allergic asthma. They fed pregnant mice diets either high or low in methyl donors. In addition to folic acid, the high methyl-donor diets additionally contained higher levels of L-methionine, choline, and genistein.

When the researchers evaluated offspring mice using a model of allergic asthma, they found that mice, whose mothers had the high methyl-donor diets, showed greater severity of asthma; more airway hyperreactivity, more allergic inflammation in their airways, and higher levels of the IgE in their blood. They also found that T cells were more likely to be the type associated with allergy.

The male offspring also transmitted a higher predisposition to allergic airway disease to their progeny. In contrast, mice exposed to high-methyl-donor diets during lactation or adulthood showed no increased propensity to allergic sensitization.

"There seems to be a crucial stage, during development in utero, when a young mouse is susceptible to epigenetic changes that can alter its immune system," said co-author John W. Hollingsworth, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. "These epigenetic changes may partially explain why it has been so difficult to definitively identify genes that contribute to asthma risk; the effect of genetic variations can be masked or further complicated by epigenetic changes."

When the researchers analyzed the genomes of the mice, they identified 82 genes that were significantly more methylated in high-methyl-diet (HMD) mice. The 10 most methylated genes were biologically plausible causes of asthma. These genes were transcription factors, which control the expression of many genes, and genes associated with cellular migration and allergic airway disease. The highly methylated genes were expressed at lower levels than less-methylated genes in mice receiving the low-methyl-donor diets.

The current research suggests too much folic acid (and other dietary supplements) during pregnancy may be related to an increased risk of allergies and asthma, and may even play a role in the dramatic increase in asthma prevalence during the past two decades. The U.S. Public Health service recommended in 1992 that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to reduce their risk of birth defects of the spine and brain. In 1996 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required that folic acid be added to specific flour, breads and other grains to prevent birth defects. Research has suggested that these measures have helped reduce birth defects.

Given the important role folic acid supplementation has played in prevention of birth defects, Drs. Schwartz and Hollingsworth do not advise any changes in folic acid supplementation, but do believe the issue is worth further investigation.

Source: National Jewish Medical and Research Center