Prenatal Supplement Helps Body More Efficiently Use Key Nutrient for Fetal Brain Development

A recent study shows that taking 500 milligrams of the nutrient choline helps the body more effectively metabolize an omega 3 fatty acid that is crucial for the fetal brain, cognition, and vision development.

Choline helps the body use an essential nutrient during a baby’s development

The nutrient choline has already been proven to have long-term advantages for children whose mothers eat it throughout pregnancy. However, a recent study has found that it can also help the body more effectively utilize an omega 3 fatty acid that is crucial for the fetal brain, cognition, and eyesight development.

The research was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on May 16th, 2022.

The results demonstrate that choline supplementation helps cellular metabolism more effectively manage and release the omega 3 fatty acid, DHA, from a pregnant woman’s liver. DHA, once in the circulation, can reach all tissues, including the placenta.

“During pregnancy, mom is primed to get nutrients out of the liver and make them available to the baby, so by supplementing choline and DHA [together], we are increasing DHA bioavailability,” said senior author Marie Caudill, professor of nutritional sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. Kevin Klatt, Ph.D. ’18, a research scientist and registered dietitian at the University of California, Berkeley, is the paper’s first author.

These forms of nutrient-nutrient interactions are not new, according to Caudill. In the intestines, for example, vitamin D improves calcium absorption while vitamin C increases iron availability.

Caudill and colleagues at Cornell have also demonstrated that high maternal choline intake reduces an infant’s stress response, improves information processing, and has long-term benefits in sustained attention (as demonstrated in a study that followed children up to age 7), and that choline reduces a factor that contributes to preeclampsia in pregnant women.

In this study, a group of 30 women in gestational weeks 12 to 16 were randomly divided into two groups: One was given 500 milligrams of choline per day, plus 50 milligrams per day of choline labeled with deuterium, so it could be tracked through the body. The other group served as a control and was given 25 milligrams per day of just the labeled choline. All participants were also given a daily 200-milligram DHA supplement, a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement, and could eat their normal diet. Blood and urine were taken after fasting at the start of the experiment for a baseline, and then during gestational weeks 20-24 and weeks 28-30. Maternal blood and cord blood were also taken at delivery.

By tracking the labeled choline, the researchers identified a chemical reaction in which choline donates small molecules called methyl groups that are added to a molecule called phosphatidylethanolamine. Through a biological pathway, phosphatidylethanolamine is converted to a new choline-containing molecule, phosphatidylcholine, which is enriched with DHA. In this form, DHA gets transferred out of the liver and into a mother’s bloodstream, where it is available for use in tissues.

Future work will help determine if choline’s ability to enhance DHA bioavailability is contributing to some of the benefits found when pregnant women supplement choline.

“Our results would suggest that choline supplementation may help achieve higher DHA status with lower DHA doses during pregnancy,” Klatt said. “Our data points towards choline intake as another significant determinant of the amount of dietary DHA that makes it into tissues in pregnancy.”

Co-authors include researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine; the University of California, Berkeley; Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand; OmegaQuant Analytics in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; the University of British Columbia in Vancouver; Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca; and the University of Texas, Austin.

The study was funded by the Balchem Corporation; the Cornell Institute of Biotechnology’s Center for Advanced Technology through the New York State Division of Science, Technology and Innovation; and the United States Department of Agriculture. The funding sources had no role in the study design, data interpretation or publication of results.

Reference: “Prenatal choline supplementation improves biomarkers of maternal docosahexaenoic acid status among pregnant participants consuming supplemental DHA: a randomized controlled trial” by Kevin C Klatt, Melissa Q McDougall, Olga V Malysheva, Siraphat Taesuwan, Aura (Alex) P Loinard-González, Julie E H Nevins, Kara Beckman, Ruchika Bhawal, Elizabeth Anderson, Sheng Zhang, Erica Bender, Kristina H Jackson, D Janette King, Roger A Dyer, Srisatish Devapatla, Ramesh Vidavalur, J Thomas Brenna and Marie A Caudill, 16 May 2022, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/nqac147

BabiesCornell UniversityDevelopmentInfantsOmega-3 Fatty AcidsSupplementUC Berkeley