Choline intake saves infants from mental illnesses

Last Updated: Sep 24, 2012, 14:54 PM IST

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: Recent studies by nutrition scientists and obstetricians at the MEdical Centres of the Universities of Cornell and Rochester have claimed that having enough of choline in the diet during pregnancy can save infants from mental and stress-related illnesses, including mental disturbances and hypertension.

Nutrition researchers concentrated their attention on choline when they found that foetal rats whose mothers didn`t get enough choline in their diets had less brain development and poorer memories after birth. Choline is essential for the brain development of infants and also prevents memory loss associated with ageing.

Choline, whose rich sources are meat and eggs, can alter the epigenetic features in the foetus. These epigenetic markers are modifications of our DNA that directs our genes to switch on or off. These epigenetic markers cannot alter our genes, but can dictate their fates by making a permanent imprint on them.

The affected markers were those that regulated the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA axis, which controls virtually all hormone activity in the body, including the production of the hormone cortisol that reflects our response to stress and regulates our metabolism. So, if the mother has a lot of choline in her diet, that would lead to a more stable HPA axis and less cortisol in the foetus.

"The study is important because it shows that a relatively simple nutrient can have significant effects in prenatal life, and that these effects are likely to continue to have a long-lasting influence on adult life," said Eva K. Pressman, study author and director of the high-risk pregnancy program at Rochester Medical Centre.