Choline is in the B-vitamin family. Additionally, it is classified as an essential nutrient by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Institute of Medicine; technically meaning that one must acquire the nutrient from their diet as the body cannot manufacture it through other biochemicals. This must be a technicality, as you actually can make choline in the body, though most believe not in sufficient amounts. If it was truly essential, it would have a number to it, like B12, etc.. OK, let’s get into the more important technicalities.
Choline is made in the gut by the natural, good bacteria that reside there. Some good bacteria, you may have heard of, that reside in the gut are acidophilus and bifidus. Now, keep in mind, you can be “deficient” in these good bacteria and have a “sterile” gut for many reasons. The most common reasons being: drinking chlorinated water, taking antibiotics (currently or in the past), consuming food additives (esp. food preservatives), and consuming foods from animals that were given antibiotics. Additionally, digestive disorders like leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis may affect the natural intestinal production of choline. Definitely consider those points as a reason you may not be making sufficient amounts of choline.
OK, now for the reasons and timing of choline supplementation (or maybe consuming abundant food-derived amounts).
Essentially, choline will “feed” the acetylcholine neurons (brain cells) in the developing fetus and newborn. These acetylcholine neurons are involved in learning and memory. According to a Duke University study: “choline “super-charged” the brains of animals that received supplements in utero, making their cells larger and faster at firing electrical “signals” that release memory-forming chemicals.” Additionally, the study says: “These marked brain changes could explain earlier behavioral studies in which choline improved learning and memory in animals”. Lastly, I want to include this from the study: “The implications for humans are profound, because the collective data on choline suggests that simply augmenting the diets of pregnant women with this one nutrient could affect their children’s lifelong learning and memory. In theory, choline could boost cognitive function, diminish age-related memory decline, and reduce the brain’s vulnerability to toxic insults.”
I would like to add another point. Choline seems to affect the brain’s spatial awareness capacity. That is, the ability to “look around” and “take in” information properly. So it will affect sensory perception, and obviously the reaction(s) to what is perceived. This is according to my virtual mentor from the UK, Chris Astill-Smith, DO.
Now about timing. Again, according to Chris Astill-Smith, DO (feel free to research embryology on your own!); the baby’s (fetus’) brain/nervous system is totally developed by the first 16 weeks (4 months) of pregnancy. In addition, during the child’s first 2-3 months after birth he/she acquires spatial awareness. That is, the child’s eyes are opening and closing, and looking around and “taking in”. This is because the “acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter) nerves” are beginning to function. Hence, these are the most vital times to have sufficient stores of choline, as a (pregnant or nursing) mother. Also, this study from the journal, Neurochemical Research found that “serum choline levels decreased by about 40% or 60% after having a child-birth either by vaginal delivery or caesarean section, respectively.” The study also states: “These observations show that serum choline levels increase during pregnancy and decrease during stressful situations in humans”. Why do serum (blood) choline levels increase during pregnancy? Well, regardless of your (and my) thoughts, it seems apparent that pregnant women need to have enough choline in order for the increase in serum choline to happen in the first place.
It may never be too late also, and worth taking if nursing or giving a child more choline, if spatial awareness problems are noted. The “take home” message is that women (well really their child) need sufficient amounts of choline during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy and the first 2-3 months after birth, if nursing – in order for proper/optimal brain development.
I could not find references related to the amount of supplemental (or food-derived) choline necessary or sufficient to achieve optimal results in your child. Please consult your physician on dosage.
Healthy children make for a healthy future!
Dr. Robert D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Applied Kinesiology