Increased maternal intake of the nutrient choline could reduce their kid’s chances of developing hypertension and diabetes later in life.
In a study led by Marie Caudill, associate professor of nutritional sciences, and graduate student Xinyin Jiang, a group of third-trimester pregnant women consumed 930 milligrams of choline, more than double the recommended 450 milligram daily intake.
The result for their babies was 33 per cent lower concentrations of cortisol – a hormone produced in response to stress that also increases blood sugar – compared to those from a control group of women who consumed about 480 milligrams of choline.
Caudill believes this happened because the choline changed the expression patterns of genes involved in cortisol production.
The work is the first human study to suggest a role for choline in the “programming” of key biological processes in the baby.
“The study findings raise the exciting possibility that a higher maternal choline intake may counter some of the adverse effects of prenatal stress on behavioral, neuroendocrine and metabolic development in the offspring,” Caudill said.
This could be especially useful for women experiencing anxiety and depression during their pregnancy, as well as conditions such as pre-eclampsia.
“A dampening of the baby’s response to stress as a result of mother consuming extra choline during pregnancy would be expected to reduce the risk of stress-related diseases such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes throughout the life of the child,” she said.
She said additional studies are needed to confirm the study findings and further explore long-term effects. Dietary sources of choline include egg yolks, beef, pork, chicken, milk, legumes and some vegetables. Most prenatal vitamin supplements do not include choline.
“We hope that our data will inform the development of choline intake recommendations for pregnant women that ensure optimal fetal development and reduce the risk of stress-related diseases,” Caudill added.
The study has been published online in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Jiang X, Yan J, West AA, Perry CA, Malysheva OV, Devapatla S, Pressman E, Vermeylen F, Caudill MA. Maternal choline intake alters the epigenetic state of fetal cortisol-regulating genes in humans. FASEB J. 2012 May 1. [Epub ahead of print]