March 28, 2005

Update on choline research

Read more... Schizophrenia Biology

In our section on what mothers can do during pregnancy to minimize risk of mental illnesses in their children, we’ve previously discussed research on why pregnant women may benefit from supplementation with a nutrient called choline. Choline is a vitamin-like substance that is sometimes treated like B vitamins and folic acid in dietary recommendations and is found in eggs and some meats.

Research with rats has repeatedly shown that babies born to mothers who eat more choline are smarter on memory testing (Click here and here for more information) suggesting that choline plays an important role in memory and brain function by positively affecting the brain's physical development.

There has been ongoing research at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill trying to determine the daily requirements of choline in healthy adults, as well as what happens when there is a reduction in dietary choline. UNC is also involved in the Choline, Pregnancy and Brain Development study which is the first study to see whether the same effect that has been found in rats can be duplicated in humans. While the overall findings from this work have yet to be published, here is an early peak at the results so far, according to Dr. Leslie Fischer who is coordinating some of this research.

Dr. Fischer reports that they are close to completing the study looking at the dietary requirements of choline in healthy adults. The data is extremely interesting and complex so far. It appears that the requirements for choline are highly variable, and may depend on a multitude of factors including gender, menopausal status, and genetic makeup. Preliminary results suggest that some individuals (likely those with mutations in genes related to choline or folate metabolism) have a choline requirement that exceeds the current Adequate Intake level of 7 mg/kg body weight. Other individuals (typically pre-menopausal women) are resistant to choline deficiency and can satisfy their bodys' needs (at least for the short term) through creating it on their own via a particular mechanism (PEMT pathway). In other words, while there doesn't seem to be a clear cut and dry recommended dietary allowance(RDA) for choline for healthy adults, this early research is promising in highlighting the various factors that may be involved.

The work by Dr. Fischer’s group looking at the effects of supplemental choline on fetal/infant brain development is still in the early stages, so we will need to wait for those findings. However, Dr. Fischer recommends that given what we know from animal studies, pregnant/lactating women should eat plenty of high choline foods such as eggs, or take a choline/lecithin supplement that provides 500-750 mg choline daily.

Click here for a USDA database on choline content in common foods

More information on Choline and Schizophrenia


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