Choline Plays an Important Role in Pregnancy

By Vicki Kobliner, MS, RDN, CD-N

it is not technically a vitamin by defi nition, it is grouped into the B-vitamins because it is most similar to this group in its structure and function.

C During pregnancy, choline plays a

very important role in optimizing health for both mom and baby. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently recognized choline as an important “brain-building nutrient”. If you are pregnant or are trying to conceive, you want to be sure you are getting enough choline.

What is Choline?

Choline is a vitamin similar to the B- vitamin folate, or folic acid, in some of its health functions. While you probably are aware of the benefi ts of folate especially for its role in preventing neural tube defects, you may not hear about choline and preg- nancy quite as much. In fact, less than 10% of pregnant women are getting enough choline in their diet. However, the benefi ts of choline during pregnancy are numerous.

Choline is an essential nutrient pro-

duced naturally in our bodies, but not in adequate amounts. Therefore, it is neces- sary to get some choline through your diet or through a supplement even if you aren’t pregnant. The adequate intake or AI for choline is 425mg/day. However, during pregnancy, choline requirements increase

holine is a critical nutrient during pregnancy that has only recently begun to be more understood. While

to a minimum of 450mg, and up to 930mg/ day may be necessary for some pregnant women. The upper limit is 3,500 mg/day. Too much choline from a supplement can cause a fi shy body odor and low blood pressure. You cannot get too much from food alone.

During pregnancy, your body has an increased demand for choline. However, many women do not absorb choline ef- fi ciently from their diets. In fact, approxi- mately half of women have a genetic varia- tion in which they require more choline than the minimum of 450 mg in order to meet their needs. If this is the case for you, you may need more choline-rich foods in your diet and possibly a supplement to meet your needs.

Benefi ts of Choline During Pregnancy

1. Brain and Nervous System Devel- opment. One of the most important functions of choline is in developing your baby’s brain and nervous system. Research has found that babies born to mothers with adequate choline intakes performed better on memory tests later in life. It is crucial for other aspects of brain development such as attention, focus, processing speed, visual acuity, and self-regulation. Getting enough choline at the early stages and through- out your entire pregnancy is recom- mended. If you miss the critical stages of development it is harder to play “catch up.” Choline is equally as important in later periods of pregnancy when the

memory center of the brain, called the hippocampus, is developing. It essen- tially assists in sending important signals across channels in the brain, helping it receive and interpret critical messages more quickly. It is crucial for helping memories to form properly.

2. Neural Tube Development. Spina bifi da is one of the most common types of neural tube defects and occurs in the fi rst trimester as the spinal cord is devel- oping. Choline works closely with folate to properly close your baby’s neural tube. Therefore, choline is needed in addition to adequate folate to prevent infant neural tube defects. Both folate and choline are involved in different reactions that create nervous system connections and proper gene expres- sion. Choline helps your baby’s nerves to properly develop and communicate with each other. Getting enough choline in your diet as early as possible in your pregnancy can help to ensure a healthy neural tube development.

3. Placental Health. The placenta is a critical organ during pregnancy and is the primary way your baby receives essential nutrients from you. A healthy, functioning placenta ensures an ad- equate supply of nutrients and oxygen is delivered to your growing baby. The placenta can only function properly if there is adequate blood fl ow from the placenta to the fetus. Choline helps to build blood vessels in the placenta so 35

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