Have you heard of choline? It’s one of many essential nutrients that we need during pregnancy but that doesn’t get a whole lot of press, so most of us don’t know much about it.
Benefits of Choline During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, Choline is important for the following reasons:
#1 – it is involved in brain development, specifically the centers that control learning, memory, and attention
#2 – It plays a role in cognitive development by supporting the rapid cell development and myelination of neurons. For those that don’t know, myelination is just a fancy name for the coating that covers nerves that makes them function.
While the body can make some choline, most of us will need to get more either through food or supplementation.
Food Sources of Choline
Choline is available in a range of different foods that make up a healthy diet. Choline is more concentrated in animal sources, but can also be found in plant-based foods.
The following foods contain choline:
- Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, etc.)
- Spinach and leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds – especially flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts and cashews
- Dairy products, such as milk, cottage cheese and yogurt
How Much Choline do we Need?
Many Canadian women fall short of the minimum recommended daily intake during pregnancy (Moore et al., 2020).
Current recommendations suggest that pregnant women should aim for 450 mg of choline per day, and this increases to 550 mg per day for women who are breastfeeding. Further, more recent studies have examined the benefit of supplementing with upwards of 900 mg of choline per day during late pregnancy.
While choline can be found in several high-quality prenatal vitamins, be sure to check with your health care provider or Naturopathic Doctor to ensure that your intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding is ideal.
Choline During the Third Trimester
Several recent studies have been designed to examine the use of additional choline during pregnancy, comparing intakes of 480 mg to 930 mg per day during the third trimester. These studies have highlighted several areas of benefit with higher choline intake, including faster reaction time for infants when tested between the ages of 4 – 13 months (Caudill et al., 2018), and improved performance at a memory task when assessed at the age of 7 (Bahnfleth et al., 2019). Taken together, these studies seem to highlight a long-term benefit of additional choline during late pregnancy on the cognitive development of infants and children.
Take-Home Points on Choline …
- Choline is an essential nutrient involved in brain development and cognition.
- While choline is found in many common foods, it is possible that pregnant women are not getting an ideal amount of choline through dietary sources alone.
- Choline can be found as a supplement and in certain prenatal vitamins and may be a consideration for women during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Current guidelines suggest that 450 mg of choline per day is adequate during pregnancy, however newer studies highlight that 900 mg of choline per day during the third trimester may provide additional benefit to infant and child cognition.
About Dr. Erica Nikiforuk, ND, RAc
Dr. Erica is a Naturopathic Doctor and Registered Acupuncturist with a focus on fertility, pregnancy and perinatal health. She has dedicated her practice to improving the health of current and future parents; thereby impacting generations to come. You can read more about Dr. Erica here
- Bahnfleth C., Canfield R., Nevins J., Caudill M., Strupp B. Prenatal Choline Supplementation Improves Child Color-location Memory Task Performance at 7 Y of Age. Curr. Dev. Nutr. 2019;3(Suppl. 1).
- Caudill MA, Strupp BJ, Muscalu L, Nevins JEH, Canfield RL. Maternal choline supplementation during the third trimester of pregnancy improves infant information processing speed: a randomized, double-blind, controlled feeding study. FASEB J. 2018;32(4):2172-2180.
- Korsmo HW, Jiang X, Caudill MA. Choline: Exploring the Growing Science on Its Benefits for Moms and Babies. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1823.
- Moore CJ, Perreault M, Mottola MF, Atkinson SA. Diet in Early Pregnancy: Focus on Folate, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and Choline. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2020 Jun 1;81(2):58-65.
- Zeisel SH. The fetal origins of memory: the role of dietary choline in optimal brain development. J Pediatr. 2006;149(5 Suppl):S131-S136.