Did you know you need to take choline during pregnancy? Until recently…me neither. In this article we quiz Dr Karen Joash on what this unsung hero of a nutrient really is and why we need it.
From Folic acid to Iron, Vitamin D and Calcium, the need to supplement during pregnancy is common knowledge. Avoiding birth defects and preventing future disease provide plenty incentive for mums wanting to give their developing babies the best start. Not forgetting the need to preserve their own depleting stores of nutrients to maintain their own wellbeing.
The majority of mums-to be will take a prenatal supplement with many women heeding the advice to start even before trying to conceive.
Luckily there are many prenatal supplements tailored to pregnant women that combine this long and otherwise exhaustive list of minerals and vitamins into one or two daily pills. But one vital ingredient may be missing – Choline.
Up until recently this pregnancy essential has had little press and recognition for its critical role in optimising the health of our growing babies. As our expert reveals, Choline is linked to prevention of various conditions – Spina bifida, autism and even infections at the time of birth (think Strep B). Sounds like a no brainer.
And yet – check the label on your prenatal pill jar and you may find it missing altogether. This is all despite a 2016 report by the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommending an increase in choline intake for pregnant women.
What is Choline?
(KJ) Choline is an essential water soluble vitamin nutrient that is vital for the proper functioning of the human body and particularly brain function. It has critical roles in the body including the formation of new brain cells, gene expression, spinal cord function, mood and memory.
Choline also aids in the transport and metabolism of fats, preventing the accumulation of fat in the liver and facilitating the transport of dietary fats for energy production.
It also has other roles in prolonging the life cycle of hair.
What are the benefits of Choline during Pregnancy?
(KJ) Choline is particularly important during fetal development and early childhood for proper brain development. It has been linked to improved cognitive function, learning, and memory.
It’s also important in Prevention of neural tube defects. Insufficient choline intake during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of conditions such as spina bifida, in newborns. By ensuring adequate choline levels, pregnant women can help reduce the risk of these birth defects.
Choline has also been linked to reduced risk of autism in children.
Are there benefits to taking choline whilst breastfeeding?
(KJ)There is evidence to suggest that choline may play an important role in protecting against infections in neonates (newborn babies).
1. Immune system development: Choline is involved in the development and functioning of the immune system. During the early stages of life, a well-functioning immune system is crucial for protection against infections. Choline helps in the production of immune cells and antibodies, which are essential for fighting off pathogens.
2. Enhanced gut barrier function: Choline has been found to support the development of a healthy gut barrier in neonates. The gut barrier acts as a defense mechanism, preventing harmful substances and pathogens from entering the bloodstream. By maintaining a robust gut barrier, choline can help reduce the risk of infections.
3. Anti-inflammatory properties: Choline exhibits anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Inflammation is a natural response to infections, but excessive or prolonged inflammation can be harmful. Choline’s anti-inflammatory properties may help regulate the immune response and reduce the risk of inflammation-related complications.
4. Prevention of perinatal infections: Adequate choline intake during pregnancy may have protective effects against perinatal infections. Research suggests that maternal choline supplementation can improve the immune response in both the mother and the newborn, reducing the risk of infections transmitted during birth.
Can We source it naturally? What foods contain choline?
(KJ)We can’t make it but need to consume it in our diet. Choline-rich foods include eggs, liver and lean red meat. Due to our society changing towards plant-based foods we have higher deficiency levels which are as high as 55-75% in some areas.
How much Choline do we need?
(KJ)The recommended choline intake for expectant mothers during pregnancy is higher than for non-pregnant individuals. The adequate intake (AI) for pregnant women is 450 milligrams per day, increasing to 550 milligrams per day during lactation. It’s worth noting that choline is not always present in prenatal multivitamins, so it’s important for pregnant women to ensure they are getting enough choline from their diet or through supplementation if necessary.
You mentioned earlier that it prolonged the life cycle of hair. Can Choline help to reduce Post Partum Hair loss?
(KJ)Yes It does.
What Are the symptoms of Choline deficiency? Some common signs and symptoms associated with choline deficiency include:
1. Impaired memory and cognitive function: Choline is crucial for brain and cognitive development. A deficiency in choline may lead to memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and reduced cognitive performance.
2. Muscle problems: Choline is involved in muscle control and function. Inadequate choline levels may contribute to muscle weakness, decreased muscle coordination, and muscle stiffness.
3. Fatigue and low energy levels: Choline plays a role in energy metabolism, and a deficiency may result in decreased energy levels, persistent fatigue, and reduced physical stamina.
4. Liver dysfunction: Choline is necessary for proper liver function, including the transport and metabolism of fats. Choline deficiency may contribute to the accumulation of fat in the liver (hepatic steatosis) and impair liver health.
5. Neural tube defects (in newborns): Insufficient choline intake during pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk of neural tube defects in newborns, such as spina bifida.
6. Increased susceptibility to infections: Choline is involved in supporting the immune system. Inadequate choline levels may compromise immune function, leading to an increased susceptibility to infections.
Is there a test to check Choline levels?
(KJ) Choline can be tested for but it’s not a routine test. Your nutritional intake can be used as a guide. Scientific recent studies have shown that up to 75% of western diets do not consume enough.
Can it be dangerous to take Choline during Pregnancy?
(KJ) Not with routine recommended amounts.
It’s important to note that the majority of people can tolerate choline intake within the recommended levels without experiencing adverse effects. Current recommendations state the adequate intake (AI) for adults is around 425 to 550 milligrams of choline per day, depending on age and gender. Breastfeeding mums need up to 900mg per day. However, individuals with specific medical conditions or those taking certain medications should consult with your healthcare provider before considering higher levels of choline supplementation.
Where can we find a prenatal supplement that does contain adequate amounts of choline?
Purermama is changing the world of pregnancy supplementation by using up to date research to provide the most comprehensive products. They have produced the only UK pregnancy and postnatal supplement with the recommended amount of choline. They are passionate about the health of mothers and their babies.
Purermama was founded by a triple award winning practicing obstetrician who gained the accolade ‘most trusted obstetrician‘ for her caring and expert approach. The other founders include a consultant paediatrician and psychotherapist. Their mission is to strengthen, protect and nourish mothers and their babies all over the world. Their products can be accessed at www.bepurer.co.uk
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