Choline may not be as well known as other nutrients, but that’s certainly no reflection of its importance. This hardworking compound plays a critical role in a number of vital biological functions and processes throughout the lifecycle. And emerging research demonstrates that it is of particular importance during pregnancy.
We checked in with nutritionist, Stephanie Lauri, RD, CLEC, to find out all there is to know about this mighty micronutrient, especially as it relates to pregnancy.
What is choline?
Choline is a water-soluble compound found in many foods and synthesized by the body in small quantities. Neither vitamin nor mineral, choline is considered an essential nutrient because the body can't produce enough of it to support its daily requirements.
One of its most notable and important roles is supporting cognitive function. Beginning in utero, choline is a major player in brain development. And research suggests it continues to support cognitive learning throughout the lifespan, possibly helping to improve memory and even slowing cognitive decline in older adults.1
But that's not all this important nutrient does. The body’s uses for choline extends well beyond the brain.
According to Stephanie Lauri, "Choline is needed to produce acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter for memory, mood, muscle control and other brain and nervous system functions. Choline also plays important roles in modulating gene expression, cell membrane signaling, as well as lipid transport and metabolism.”
Why do you need choline during pregnancy?
In the general adult population, choline deficiency may cause liver and muscle damage.2 For expecting mothers, a choline deficiency has serious implications for the pregnancy and the unborn baby’s health. Low choline intake is associated with pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, premature birth and low birth weight.
It may also increase risk for neural tube defects like spina bifida in babies. The neural tube is a sealed tube that forms down the embryo’s back in early pregnancy. This structure later becomes the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Neural tube defects are severe birth defects that result from the neural tube not closing properly. Research has established a potential connection between choline intake and these defects in unborn babies—higher intake around the time of conception is associated with a decreased risk of these conditions.3
How much choline do pregnant women need?
Although the body is able to synthesize a small amount of choline, it is not enough to support its daily needs. Therefore, people need to include choline-rich foods in their diets. And pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding have even greater need for this nutrient.4
That's why at Perelel, we include a significantly higher dose of choline than in most prenatal vitamins. So you can rest-assured you're getting the nutrition you need and are filling in the gaps from even the most well-rounded diet.
What foods naturally contain choline?
Choline can be found naturally in a wide variety of common foods.
"The most concentrated food sources include beef liver and hard boiled eggs (found in the yolk!),” says Stephanie Lauri.
Chicken, beef and cod also provide some choline. Vegans and vegetarians can satisfy their choline requirements by eating a wide variety of vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains.
“Other sources in smaller amounts include roasted soybeans, red potatoes, quinoa, kidney beans and wheat germ,” says Stephanie Lauri.
What happens if you are deficient in choline during pregnancy?
Although available data suggests that most people in the United States don’t consume enough choline, few experience symptoms of deficiency. Experts say this may be because our bodies are able to synthesize small amounts of this nutrient organically.
In the general population, a deficiency can result in damage to the muscles and liver, and eventually lead to fatty liver disease, a dangerous condition in which fat deposits accumulate in the liver.4
In pregnant women, a deficiency may have even graver implications. Some research has established a link between low plasma or serum choline levels and an increased risk of neural tube defects, severe birth defects of the brain and spine.5 However, these findings were not replicated in all studies and further research is warranted.5
Still, data suggests that between 90 and 95 percent of pregnant women consume less choline than is recommended.5
“Given the importance of choline—especially with regard to brain development, and the fact that it is rarely included in prenatal vitamins, expecting mothers should really focus on including choline-rich foods in their diet. Including just two eggs per day can meet over half of your daily pregnancy requirement. Since more than 90 percent of pregnant women do not meet their daily choline needs, look for prenatal vitamins that do actually contain this essential nutrient,” says Stephanie Lauri.
Perelel’s prenatal vitamins include a Core Prenatal multivitamin for pregnant women that contains 120 milligrams of choline, a significantly higher dose than what is included in most prenatal dietary supplements, to support fetal neurodevelopment and DHA metabolism.
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.
1(2021, May 12). Citicoline and Memory Function in Healthy Older Adults - NCBI.
2(n.d.). Sex and menopausal status influence human dietary requirements ....
3(n.d.). Periconceptional dietary intake of choline and betaine and neural ....