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Consuming larger amounts of choline during pregnancy may lower an infant's vulnerability to mental and stress-related illnesses, and chronic conditions, like hypertension, later in life, claimed nutrition scientists and obstetricians at Cornell University and the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Choline is a nutrient found in eggs and meat. Scientists found that higher-than-normal amounts of choline in the diet during pregnancy changed epigenetic markers (modifications on our DNA) which tell our genes to switch on or off. While epigenetic markers don't alter our genes, they dictate their fates by making a permanent imprint on them.
Choline affected those markers that regulated the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA axis, which controls virtually all hormone activity in the body, including cortisol that regulates our metabolism and reflects our response to stress. More choline in the pregnant woman's diet led to a more stable HPA axis and consequently less cortisol in the fetus. Research has shown that early exposure to high levels of cortisol can increase a baby's lifelong risk of stress-related and metabolic disorders.
"The study is important because it shows that a relatively simple nutrient can have significant effects in prenatal life, and that these effects likely continue to have a long-lasting influence on adult life. While our results won't change practice at this point, the idea that maternal choline intake could essentially change foetal genetic expression into adulthood is quite novel," said Eva K. Pressman, M.D., study author and director of the high-risk pregnancy program at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "
"One day we might prescribe choline in the same way we prescribe folate to all pregnant women. It is cheap and has virtually no side effects at the doses provided in this study. In the future, we could use choline to do even more good than we are doing right now," notes Pressman, the James R. Woods Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
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