Choline in Pregnancy Impacts Sustained Attention in Children: Study
Choline in Pregnancy Impacts Sustained Attention in Children: Study | Photo credit: iStock Images
Washington: Seven-year-olds did better at a difficult task requiring sustained attention if their mothers consumed twice the recommended amount of choline during their pregnancy, according to a new Cornell study. The results were published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The study, which compared these children to those whose mothers consumed the recommended amount of choline, suggests that the recommended intake of choline for pregnant women does not fully meet the needs of the fetal brain.
“Our results suggest population-wide benefits of adding choline to a standard prenatal vitamin regimen,” said Barbara Strupp, professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences (DNS) and the Department of Psychology, and lead co-author of the study, ‘Prenatal Choline Supplementation Improves Sustained Childhood Attention: A Seven-Year Follow-up of a Randomized Controlled Feeding Trial’.
The first author of the study is Charlotte Bahnfleth, PhD. ’19, a former graduate student of the Strupp Lab. The co-lead author is Richard Canfield, Senior DNS Research Associate. Marie Caudill, DNS professor, was also a co-author.
Choline – found in egg yolks, lean red meat, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts, and cruciferous vegetables – is missing from most prenatal vitamins, and over 90% of pregnant women consume less than the recommended amount. Decades of research using rodent models have shown that adding extra choline to the maternal diet produces long-term cognitive benefits for offspring. In addition to improving the attention and memory of the offspring throughout life, maternal choline supplementation in rodents has been shown to be neuroprotective for the offspring by alleviating cognitive difficulties caused by prenatal stress, the fetal exposure to alcohol, autism, epilepsy, Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.
In the Cornell study, all women ate a diet prepared with a specified amount of choline throughout the third trimester of pregnancy. Half of these women consumed 480 mg of choline per day, slightly above the recommended adequate intake (AI) level of 450 mg / day. The other half consumed a total intake of 930 mg of choline per day, about double the level of AI. In a test at 7 years, children of women in the 480 mg / day group showed a decrease in imprecision from start to finish of a sustained attention task, while those in the 930 mg / day group maintained a high level of precision throughout the task. These findings parallel the effects of maternal choline supplementation and deprivation in rodents, using a closely analogous sustained attention task.
“By demonstrating that maternal choline supplementation in humans produces attentional benefits for offspring similar to those seen in animals,” said Strupp, “our results suggest that the full range of cognitive and neuroprotective benefits demonstrated in rodents can also be seen in humans. “
The new findings build on a previous study by this research group describing benefits during infancy. This study demonstrated that maternal choline supplementation improved the speed of information processing throughout the first year of life in these same children. Few studies in humans have evaluated the effect of maternal choline supplementation, and this is the first study to follow children up to school age.
“By showing that the beneficial effects of prenatal supplementation last through childhood, these findings illustrate the role of prenatal choline in programming cognitive development in children,” Canfield said. “And because the ability to maintain attention in difficult situations is essential to almost all areas of cognitive performance, the cumulative impact of improved sustained attention is likely to be substantial.”
Current recommendations – including those for pregnant women – were established in 1998 and are based on the amount of choline needed to prevent liver dysfunction in men, studies have shown. This research was funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of the United States Department of Agriculture, and Balchem ââCorp. Bahnfleth was funded by a NICHD internship and the Egg Nutrition Center Young Investigator Research Award for Early Exploration.