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.


May 9, 2013

Videos of Researchers talking about Choline and Pregancy

filed under: Prenatal Choline News Prenatal Choline Research Study
Recently it seems doctors / researchers have started using internet video to start getting their messages to the public.  Here are two videos on the topic of pregnancy and choline consumption.  I especially recommend the first one as it features the leading researcher in the field - Steven Zeisel:


May 9, 2013

Another Person's experience with Pregnancy Choline

filed under: General Baby Health Personal Experience
I received the following email recently from a reader of this blog. I thought I'd share it since it cover's another family's experience with choline, and he's studied under the leaders in choline research.:

"I am a former student of Tina Williams and Warren Meck at Duke University and Steve Zeisel [University of North Carolina] was on my dissertation committee.  I ran across your website while looking for choline dosage recommendations during pregnancy.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I recommended lots of eggs and peanut butter. I also had my wife supplement with lecithin initially until we switched to choline bitartate. In the end she was getting 1.5 grams of choline a day, give or take. She kept this up (minus the peanut butter) through 1 year of breast feeding.

After 1 year, I did not supplement our son's diet with choline but a lot of our personal experience matches up with you describe: Full-term (he was induced against my better judgement); more alert; fast to become a good sleeper; low stress/anxiety response; fast to learn to walk (10 months); very good long-term memory (he can spontaneously remember things from 2 years ago at 4 years old).

We are now expecting our second child and the new research from Karen Stevens inspired me to see what was out there, and hence your blog.  Thanks for the good compilation of information. I think I will try for a much higher level of choline this time as well as more post-natal choline."

January 15, 2013

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

filed under: Prenatal Choline Research Study

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.


January 15, 2013

High Prenatal Choline May Prevent Schizophrenia / Mental Illness in Offspring

filed under: General Baby Health Prenatal Choline Research Study

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.