18 Nov The Secret To Having A Smart Baby – Part 1
Want to know the secret to having a smart baby?
Working as a Naturopath specialising in Fertility it’s important to me to support the health and longevity of the next generation. In this article, I discuss the importance of a nutrient vital for growth.
There are many nutrients that support the health of a developing baby. More of the most well-known ones are good fats, complex carbohydrates, proteins, and well-known vitamins such as Folic acid, and an array of minerals.
We know that folic acid has been shown to significantly reduce the incident of neural tube defects but there is also a lesser well-known nutrient that also supports this benefit – This nutrient is choline.
So what is choline?
Choline is an organic, water-soluble compound. It is neither a vitamin nor a mineral. It has been grouped with B vitamins due to its similarities (It was formerly recognised in 1998 by the Institute of medicine as an essential nutrient for optimal health).
Research conducted in 2004 (1), discovered it is also associated with a lower risk of Neural Tube defects, regardless of folate intake. So, for foetal development, it is necessary for brain and central nervous system development, cell membrane formation and replication, neurogenesis and hippocampal development.
It accompanies DHA (Essential fatty acids an integral part of Omega 3) which means that infants tested at 6 months old with a higher concentration of Choline and DHA had better recognition memory.
The benefits continue with more research in 2012 which shows that supplementation in the third trimester assists the baby to have increased resilience, to stress hormones released by the mother (the liver withholds choline if the mother is stressed) this links to the fact that higher levels of stress hormones circulating in the pregnancy are associated with pre-term birth, low birth rate, and higher risk for obesity, behavioural disturbances and poor cognitive function.
Another research article from the American Journal Of Epidemiology, 2013, (showed that choline supplementation during the second trimester increased higher memory and verbal score in infants compared with placebo and significantly faster information processing speeds).
Unfortunately, Australian choline consumption is inadequate in pregnancy and lactation > the need for choline is much higher in pregnancy to support the developing baby. A recent analysis showed that most Australian women do not meet the recommended dose, 50% less than required
In an ideal world, we would be getting enough choline from our diet.
Choline rich foods include:
- Unprocessed beef, sheep and pork
- Tofu and other soy-based products, including soy milk
- Peanut Butter
- Liver (preferably biodynamic as it is clean of pesticides)
Choline uptake depends on genetic make-up.Catalysation and uptake of choline is controlled by a gene called PEMT (Phosphatidylethanolamine N-methyltransferase). PEMT codes for an enzyme that controls the synthesis of choline. Individuals may have decreased ability to generate choline, therefore, a higher risk for choline deficiency and associated health disorders.
If I was having my babies today, I would want to do genetic testing to thoroughly assess my nutrient needs during pregnancy. I’m not suggesting it is necessary as at $450 for 65 genes – it is expensive. On the flip side, it does give qualitative information on what you need to supplement with during pregnancy to ensure the healthiest possible outcome. Given all the challenges with learning difficulties that we are facing I think it is money well spent.
(Australian research published in 2019 indicates that less than 10 % of the population consumes enough choline, so I am encouraging all my patients to increase it in the diet and if necessary, supplement during pregnancy and lactation …. A small price to pay for smarter kids!
(1) Periconceptional dietary intake of choline and betaine and neural tube defects in offspring.
(2) Choline: An Essential Nutrient for Public Health