New research from Cornell University published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease in July shows that the cognition of mice with Down syndrome improves dramatically with maternal choline intake. What this means is that women who increase their choline intake while pregnant and expecting a child with Down syndrome might improve the brain function of their child, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and improve spatial cognition.
Barbara Strupp, Cornell professor of nutritional sciences and of psychology and the study’s senior author, says, “Mounting evidence suggests that many women may not be consuming enough choline during pregnancy to promote optimal brain development and cognitive functioning of their babies … Increasing choline intake during pregnancy is sound nutritional advice for all women and may offer an even more pronounced benefit for Down syndrome offspring.”
While the study is promising, Dr. Brian Skotko tells us that it is important to consider that “All of the ‘mother’ mice had Down syndrome, just like their offspring. So, it is always difficult to separate the effects of a pregnant mouse having Down syndrome versus some therapeutic intervention.” In addition, he adds, “The studies are very preliminary. In short, some mice showed improvement on one task related to memory. As the authors point out, ‘future studies are needed to ascertain whether the beneficial effects of [choline] are seen in humans.’ So, there is quite some distance between these mice and humans.”
So, ultimately, the research could lead to some very helpful benefits for those who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, but more research is needed to discover the effectiveness of the treatment in humans. That being said, increasing choline intake through regular dietary intake poses almost no risk for most pregnant women and could be beneficial to their baby. Strupp says, “Choline is an essential nutrient for all individuals, but pregnant women have an even greater need due to the demands of the developing fetus.” So, pregnant moms who want to increase their choline intake can do so by eating more of foods such as eggs and meat, which have the most concentrated sources of choline, as well as broccoli and cauliflower. It’s also possible to take choline supplements, but be sure to consult with your obstetrician before adding any additional vitamins as a pregnant mom and to figure out the safest dosage.
Let us know pregnant moms, what do you think?