New Study: Prenatal Choline Benefits Attention Span In Children

Pregnant women sit in a semi-circle holding notebooks and pencils on their laps.

In a 2022 study, researchers found that children whose mothers consumed a high amount of choline daily during the third trimester of pregnancy exhibited superior performance during a sustained attention task than those whose mothers consumed an adequate amount.

As new moms or moms-to-be, we're often inundated with advice on what to eat and what to avoid to ensure the health and well-being of our little ones. Amidst this sea of recommendations, it's easy to overlook some lesser known nutrients that play a crucial role in our children's development. One such unsung hero is choline, a vital nutrient that is gaining attention for its significant impact on fetal brain development and cognitive function. 


In this article, we’ll explore a 2022 study that sheds light on the long-term benefits of prenatal choline supplementation, particularly on a child's attention span (1). 

What Is Choline?

Choline is a nutrient that supports various bodily functions, including liver function, muscle movement, and metabolism (2). Its important role in prenatal brain development is gaining more and more research attention and is what makes it particularly noteworthy for expectant mothers (1). 


Choline is present in Prenatal & Postnatal Daily Nutrients and is in many common foods. 

Understanding The Study Design

In a 2022 study — Prenatal choline supplementation improves child sustained attention: A 7-year follow-up of a randomized controlled feeding trial — researchers used a standard form of cognitive testing seven years after birth to see if the consumption of varying levels of choline by pregnant mothers during the third trimester of pregnancy affected the attention spans of their children (2). 

During this study, randomly selected pregnant women were divided into two groups: the "adequate choline group" consumed 480 mg of choline per day and the "high choline group" consumed 930 mg of choline per day.


Women in both groups were given the same diet and either adequate or high levels of choline. The supplement dose was blinded, so the women didn’t know if they were getting a normal or high dose of choline. 


When the children in the study were seven years old, they returned to the lab for cognitive testing. 

Children write on tablets as they sit on a classroom floor.

Key Findings: Higher Choline Intake Resulted In Higher Cognitive Function

Based on the testing, researchers found that children whose mothers consumed 930 mg of choline daily exhibited superior performance during the sustained attention task than those whose mothers consumed 480 mg. 


Though this was a relatively small study with only 21 children, it is notable that the researchers were able to detect a statistical difference in their attention abilities. 


Note: The small size is a limitation of the study, which means there needs to be more research done before we can draw firm conclusions. 

Implications For Expecting Moms

For moms-to-be and their healthcare providers, this study suggests the importance of including choline — in the form of food or supplement – in the prenatal diet


It is important to note that the group with the lower choline intake received slightly more than the amount considered adequate, which is 450 mg per day according to the National Institute of Health (2). This highlights the concept that adequate intake of a nutrient may be lower than its optimal intake.


Finally, because these results were recorded seven years after birth, this study is a reminder of the long term impacts of prenatal diet on children's health, cognition, and overall ability later in life. 

How To Incorporate Choline Into Your Diet

Choline is found in many commonly consumed foods, making it easy to incorporate into your diet. 


Foods high in choline (3): 

  • Beef Liver: 3 ounces (85 grams) provide about 356 mg of choline. Beef liver is not only a choline powerhouse but is also rich in vitamins A and B12.

  • Eggs: 1 large egg contains approximately 147 mg of choline. The choline is concentrated in the egg yolk, making it an essential part of the diet for choline intake.

  • Chicken Breast: A 3 ounce (85 grams) serving of chicken breast has about 72 mg of choline. It's a lean protein source that's versatile and easy to add to various meals.

  • Atlantic Cod: 3 ounces (85 grams) of cooked Atlantic cod provide around 71 mg of choline. This fish is also a great source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Shiitake Mushrooms: 1 cup of cooked shiitake mushrooms contains about 58 mg of choline. These mushrooms are also known for their immune-boosting properties.

  • Brussels Sprouts: 1 cup of cooked Brussels sprouts offers around 63 mg of choline. These cruciferous vegetables are also high in fiber and vitamins C and K.

  • Broccoli: 1 cup of cooked broccoli provides approximately 62 mg of choline. Broccoli is also rich in vitamins C and K, fiber, and antioxidants.

  • Salmon: A 3 ounce (85 grams) serving of cooked salmon contains about 56 mg of choline. Salmon is well-known for its omega-3 fatty acid content.

  • Turkey Breast: 3 ounces (85 grams) of roasted turkey breast offer about 48 mg of choline. Turkey is another excellent source of lean protein and various nutrients.

  • Soybeans: 1 cup of cooked soybeans contains about 216 mg of choline. Soybeans are also a great plant-based protein source and are rich in fiber and other vitamins and minerals.

Note: Many, but not all, prenatal multivitamins contain choline. Be sure to check labels. 

Summary

This study is a reminder of the profound influence prenatal nutrition, and in this case choline, can have on a child's health. Though this study focuses on choline, it is simply one important nutrient among many. Aiming to eat a nutritious diet and filling in gaps with a high quality prenatal multivitamin, such as Dr. Green Life’s Prenatal & Postnatal Daily Nutrients, is our preferred way of nutritionally setting our kids up for a healthy future. 

References:

  1. Bahnfleth, C. L., Strupp, B. J., Caudill, M. A., & Canfield, R. L. (2022). Prenatal choline supplementation improves child sustained attention: A 7-year follow-up of a randomized controlled feeding trial. 

  2. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021). Choline: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Retrieved from  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Choline-HealthProfessional/

  3. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). FoodData Central. Retrieved from  https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/ 

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