Choline plays a fundamental role in normal fetal development through its roles in membrane synthesis, hepatic lipid export, neurotransmission and cellular methylation. A higher intake of choline during pregnancy is associated with a lower risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect, and has been shown to improve placental function, lower stress reactivity among newborns, increase information processing speed among infants, enhanced attention and memory in children, and even to mitigate some of the cognitive deficits observed in children with prenatal alcohol syndrome. Supplementing the maternal diet with additional choline can also increase DHA supply to the developing fetus and overcome some of the metabolic disturbances associated with genetic variants in folate-metabolizing enzymes. The majority of pregnant women in the US are not achieving choline intake recommendations and would likely benefit from increasing their intakes of choline-rich foods (primarily animal source foods). Consuming a prenatal choline supplement when target intake levels cannot be achieved through diet alone may also be necessary.
Upon successful completion of this one-hour course, the participant should be able to:
Describe the role of choline in fetal development.
Identify pregnancy and child outcomes that are improved by a higher maternal choline intake.
Appreciate that most pregnant women are not meeting choline intake recommendations.
Identify foods rich in choline.
Guide expecting mothers on choline supplement use.
Dr. Marie Caudill is a registered dietitian and professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University. She is internationally recognized for her research on folate and choline, and has published more than 150 papers, reviews or chapters in these areas. Her current research focuses on the level of choline intake required to meet metabolic requirements and improve health outcomes during pregnancy. Dr. Caudill is an editor of the graduate level textbook Biochemical, Physiological, & Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition, and is frequently invited to speak on topics related to prenatal nutrition, one-carbon metabolism and nutritional genomics.