Higher Prenatal Choline Levels Can Protect Developing Brains, Study Finds

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Aurora, CO—Pregnant women should consider taking choline to help mitigate the negative impact that viral respiratory infections like COVID-19 can have on their babies, a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus suggests.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that COVID-19 will impact fetal brain development like other common corona respiratory viruses,” said Robert Freedman, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and lead researcher, in a press release on the topic.

Choline is critical to fetal brain development, the release notes.

The new study looked at whether higher prenatal choline levels can help protect the fetus’s developing brain, even if the mother contracts a viral respiratory infection in early pregnancy. “Previous pandemics have resulted in significantly increased levels of mental illnesses including schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit disorder in the offspring,” Camille Hoffman, M.D., Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at CU Anschutz, explained in the release. “However, since data from COVID-19 itself will not be available for years, we’re hoping our study findings will provide valuable information for soon-to-be mothers on the importance of taking choline supplements daily during pregnancy.”

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In the study, researchers analyzed infant behavior by measuring the infant’s IBQ-R Regulation dimension, which looks at the development of infant attention and other self-regulatory behaviors. Lower IBQ-R at one year of age is associated with problems in attention and social behavior in later childhood. Their findings:

  • Infants of mothers who had viral infections and higher choline levels had significantly increased 3-month IBQ-R scores on the Regulation dimension and specifically the Attention scale in the Regulation dimension, compared to infants of mothers who had viral infections and had lower choline levels.
  • Choline levels sufficient to protect the fetus often require dietary supplements.
  • The increased maternal anxiety and depression in the viral-infected mothers were not associated with their infants’ IBQ-R Regulation.

“It’s important for the healthcare community, and soon to be mothers, to be aware that a natural nutrient can be taken during pregnancy, just like folic acid and other prenatal vitamins, to protect fetuses and newborns from brain development issues. Later on in life, these development issues can lead to mental illness,” Freedman added in the release.

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