A healthy diet and certain essential supplements are the foundations to ensuring optimal nutrition during preconception and throughout pregnancy and lactation. For more on nutrition during pregnancy, please read our blog over here.
But what about supplementation? What are the key nutrients needed for a thriving mum and bub during pregnancy and beyond?
We hear a LOT about good quality pregnancy multi vitamins, folate, and omega 3s (which yes, are super important), but there is a vital nutrient often overlooked and underestimated! We are talking about the powerhouse that is CHOLINE.
What is Choline and Why are We Choline Deficient?
The science - Choline is a precursor to various metabolites (substances formed in or necessary for metabolism) within the body. Via these metabolites, choline supports; cell division, production of neurotransmitters, cellular membranes, neuronal networks, and enhances DNA methylation!
In basic terms? Choline influences many vital functions within the body and without it we cannot thrive! Choline also plays a key role in the enhancement of brain function and liver health.
The downside? Unfortunately, statistics published in 2019 indicate that less than 10% of Australians consume adequate choline, with much of the population under the recommended daily intake (RDI) - 550 mg/day for men, 425 mg/day for women. One population particularly at risk for choline deficiency, is pregnant and breastfeeding women. Furthermore, evidence suggests pregnant women require substantially more choline than is currently recommended, especially during the third trimester!
So, how do we obtain enough Choline!? The body cannot make enough choline on its own, making it an essential nutrient to be consumed through food and often, supplementation.
Beef liver and egg yolks are the most concentrated food sources of choline. Choline is also found in small amounts in animal foods and some plant foods, such as organ and muscle meats, shrimp, salmon, soybeans, and wheat germ.
Why is Choline SO Important in Pregnancy?
Choline plays a leading role throughout pregnancy, supporting foetal development and a healthy pregnancy. Choline is also important during lactation, with large amounts present in human breastmilk. Numerous studies have outlined the importance of adequate choline during pregnancy and breastfeeding due to its influential role in various bodily functions and development for both mother and baby. These include (but are not limited to);
In early pregnancy, choline aids the growth of maternal organs.
Choline plays an essential role in influencing embryonic development and healthy genetic expression.
Choline supports rapid foetal growth and the production of complex molecules in the growing bub, optimising the development of a healthy child in utero and beyond.
Studies indicate choline may be protective against neural tube defects (NTD).
Choline supports delivery of essential nutrients to the foetus; in particular, the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA (our good fat!), further enhancing brain development.
Choline can help create “brainier” kids; For example, a recent study demonstrated that maternal consumption of approximately twice the recommended dose of choline (930 mg per day) during the last trimester improved infant information processing speed, but also that even modest increases in maternal choline intake during pregnancy (480 mg per day) can produce cognitive benefits in the child.
As well as contributing to structural development of the brain and nervous system, maternal choline intake may counter the detrimental effects of prenatal stress in the child. It is never too early to provide stress support!
Putting Choline into Action
Ensuring adequate intake of choline during pregnancy is vital for its critical role in numerous metabolic and physiologic processes.
Alongside dietary choline, consistent and adequate choline supplementation offers a practical way to ensure that mum and bub thrive!
It seems we just cannot obtain enough choline through diet alone, especially during pregnancy and breastfeeding years.
Our highly qualified Naturopaths/Nutritionists support preconception, pregnancy, and breastfeeding women in the Darling Health clinic daily. It is what we live for! It is so important our women are nourishing themselves and their growing bub, and we are here to help with that through diet, lifestyle and supplementation advice. Please do not hesitate to reach out for support!
National Health and Medical Research Council. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Choline [Internet]. Canberra (ACT): Australian Government. 2014. [Cited 2019 Mar 21]. Available from: https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/choline.
Probst Y, Guan V, Neale E. Development of a choline database to estimate Australian population intakes. Nutrients. 2019 Apr 23;11(4). pii: E913. doi: 10.3390/nu11040913.
National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand 2006.
Yan J, Jiang X, West AA, Perry CA, Malysheva OV, Brenna JT et al. Pregnancy alters choline dynamics: results of a randomized trial using stable isotope methodology in pregnant and nonpregnant women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Dec;98(6):1459-67.