Choline plays key role in brain development
The B vitamin choline -- recently
classified as an "essential nutrient for humans" --
appears to play a key role in brain development, mounting evidence
"The importance of choline for maintaining health in adults has
been recognized for some time, but recent work points out its
critical role in brain development," Dr. Jan Krzysztof
Blusztajn of Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts,
writes in the current issue of Science.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences
designated choline an essential nutrient in April of this year.
In light of findings suggesting that choline plays a crucial role in
cognitive development both prior to and shortly after birth, the
board recommended that pregnant and nursing women increase their
intake of the vitamin. While the board suggests that women who are
not pregnant get 425 milligrams (mg) of the vitamin daily, it set
the recommended daily dose for pregnant women at 450 mg per day, and
the value for nursing women at 550 mg daily, Blusztajn reports.
A component of cell membranes, choline is also a precursor of the
neurotransmitter acetylcholine and
other chemical messengers.
Lab studies suggest that the vitamin plays crucial roles in various
processes relating to learning and memory. Among other things,
choline appears to stimulate cell division in the developing brain.
Studies with pregnant rats suggest choline may have very long
lasting -- possibly life-long -- effects on brain function,
Blusztajn notes. In one study, pregnant rats were fed either no
choline, limited amounts of the nutrient, or relatively high doses.
Pups born to the mothers that received no choline did poorly on
tests designed to measure attention and certain types of memory,
Blusztajn reports. Those born to mothers that got the supplemental
choline scored much higher.
"These behavioral effects of choline availability in utero were
remarkably long-lasting and persisted beyond the age of 2 years, an
age at which a rat is developmentally old," he reports.
"Thus, prenatal supplementation with choline prevented the
normally observed memory decline of old age."
Whether choline has the same effects on brain function in humans
remains to be seen, Blusztajn writes. But findings to date suggest
that "optimal dietary choline early in life may improve human
cognitive development and slow cognitive declines associated with
Though choline is found in many foods, vegetables, peanuts, eggs and
meats, especially liver, are the best sources of the nutrient,
according to the article.
SOURCE: Science 1998;281:794-795.