Mom's Diet May Affect Newborns' Stress

Choline intake for pregnant moms reduces babies' stress hormones at birth

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Though most recommended nutrients for pregnant women are included in prenatal vitamins, others should be gained through diet, such as the nutrient choline.

A recent study reveals that a higher intake of choline during the last part of a woman's pregnancy reduces their baby's stress levels, and this reduction, along with other changes noted, may play a part in reducing later disease risk.

"Eat plenty of vegetables and protein foods during your pregnancy."

Marie Caudill, an associate professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, and Cornell graduate student Xinyin Jiang, conducted a study to see what impact it may have on the babies if pregnant women took a higher daily dose of the nutrient choline.

A group of 24 pregnant women in their third trimester were split into two groups. One group consumed 930mg of choline and the other consumed 480mg during the last 12 weeks before giving birth.

The women consumed the choline through a combination of their diet via a special menu provided by the researchers for all meals and through supplements. The daily recommended intake of choline is 450mg.

After the babies were born, the researchers tested their cord blood for certain hormones and took other measurements related to the makeup of the fetal tissue. The babies whose mothers took 930mg had approximately one third the concentration of cortisol in their cord blood as the babies of the women who had 480 mg of choline daily.

Cortisol is the "stress hormone" the body produces when under stress; it increases blood sugar when the body produces it.

Choline is found in certain vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and cauliflower, as well as in pork, chicken, beef, egg yolks, milk and legumes.

The highest concentrations of it tend to be in the meats, like eggs and beef liver, though wheat germ contains high concentrations as well. Associations for the egg and beef industries contributed funding to this study.

Choline is not included in typical prenatal vitamin supplements. It plays a role during pregnancy in the closing of the neural tube, though a much smaller role than folate.

According to Caudill, a lower stress level in the baby may translate to long-term benefits in reducing the child's risk to diseases like hypertension and type 2 diabetes, which are related to stress among other factors.

However, this study's findings were limited because despite the lower stress levels at birth and the evidence that fetal tissue may be modified by the mother's intake of choline, it's not possible to know the long-term effects of these results.

The possibility that the choline intake might play a part in the "programming" of a baby's tissues would require further research, as would determining whether a mother's choline intake might necessarily reduce later risks to other conditions.

While it is possible for physical hormone levels at birth to play a part in how the body functions and develops as it grows, a long-term study would be required to establish a link between these lower cortisol levels and an actual reduction in risk factors for stress-related diseases.

The study appeared online May 2 in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
The research was funded by the Egg Checkoff through the Egg Nutrition Center, the Beef Checkoff through the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and the Nebraska Beef Council as well as grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the President's Council of Cornell Women.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 5, 2012
Last Updated:
May 7, 2012