THE MISSING PREGNANCY NUTRIENT: CHOLINE

Written by our Head Nutritional Therapist and co-founder, Alice Mackintosh

We've all heard about the importance of vitamin C for our immune system, B12 for energy and detox, and iron for brain function, but what if there was a missing nutrient that we didn’t know we needed?  One that's essential for all these jobs as well making everything else in the body works as it should, being especially important for fertility and healthy baby-growth?  You might be thinking “Hey, come on now, how can it be all that important and I still haven’t heard of it, or even seen it in my daily multivitamin/prenatal supplement?”.


Well the truth is that nobody is talking about it enough, and nobody is really including it in their multivitamins/pregnancy supplements either!  One of the reasons why some research has shown that 94% of men and 89% of women do not meet the daily recommended intake (1). 


We are talking about choline, a water-soluble nutrient which is sometimes categorised as a B vitamin (even though it isn’t actually a vitamin or mineral). The good news is that choline is found in many foods in a balanced diet, but a lot of us aren’t getting enough, either because we don’t eat it or because people have common gene variants that mean they don’t genetically process it very well and as such have a higher demand (2).


The best food sources are eggs, fish, meat and liver (meaning that vegans can sometimes be on the back foot and at more risk of deficiency) but edamame, sesame seeds/tahini, cauliflower do also deliver modest levels.

Choline and Pregnancy

Choline is needed for many functions, but it becomes extra important during pregnancy, which is why we give it special focus on our Pregnancy Formula.
  • Critical for neural development in a foetus, and especially for brain and nervous system development (3)
  • Deficiency associated with neural tube defects, cleft lips and orofacial defects (4)
  • May help support normal gene functioning in foetuses, which control everything from brain function, stress levels and hormone balance (known as the hypolathamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) (5)
  • Placenta health and function
  • Also required for the health of the mother, from everything from liver health, skin health, concentration, memory and mood.

A 12 week research study at Cornell University on choline supplementation during pregnancy concluded that maternal supplementation may be a good nutritional strategy not only improve the health of a baby, but also lifelong health (5).Though more research is always needed on the subject and the level that women need is still debated, supplementing with choline during pregnancy is critically important.


 

Does your pregnancy supplement contain choline?

Equi’s Pregnancy Formula contains 100mg of choline whilst the UK market leader, which incidentally is what is available on prescription in the UK, contains a big fat 0mg. 

We also recommend that the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12) and folate (you’ll know this as folic acid, the synthetic, unnatural version of this all-important vitamin) in your supplement come in the highest quality, most absorbable forms, as these help choline work properly in the body.  We make sure ours are the best you can get and you can see these levels on our page - it’s worth you checking to see if the product you’re taking does too.
 
For a free, easy guide to what to eat before, during and after pregnancy to help you support yourself and the health of your baby check out this article written by our expert nutritionists – How To Eat Healthy For Fertility Pregnancy and Breastfeeding.
 


References:
  1. Bidulescu A, Chambless LE, Siega-Riz AM, Zeisel SH, Heiss G. Repeatability and measurement error in the assessment of choline and betaine dietary intake: the atherosclerosis risk in communities (ARIC) study. Nutr J 2009, 8(1): 14.
  2. Ganz AB, Klatt KC, Caudill MA. Common Genetic Variants Alter Metabolism and Influence Dietary Choline Requirements. Nutrients. 2017 Aug 4;9(8).
  3. Zeisel SH. The supply of choline is important for fetal progenitor cells.Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2011 Aug;22(6):624-8.
  4. Shaw GM, Carmichael SL, Laurent C, Rasmussen SA. Maternal nutrient intakes and risk of orofacial clefts. Epidemiology. 2006;17:285–91.
  5. Jiang X, West AA, Caudill MA. Maternal choline supplementation: a nutritional  approach for improving offspring health? Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2014 May;25(5):263-73.


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Disclaimer: No one diet or supplement regime works for everyone and you should always seek help from a GP and registered health expert before making changes to your diet, or before introducing any supplements. This is especially important when pregnant.