Choline is increasingly recognized as an important nutrient during the prenatal period, pregnancy and postpartum, and affects physiological and neural processes in the developing fetus. Yet most people don’t get enough Choline from their diets alone and in prenatal supplements, Choline is often missing or at levels far below recommendations.
What is Choline?
Choline is an essential nutrient that helps the body break down and process fats, allowing your body to use fat as fuel. It is also needed to produce neurotransmitters important for memory, mood and brain and nervous system functions. We produce Choline ourselves, but the amount isn’t enough to meet the body’s needs, so supplementation (either through diet or vitamins) is key. But, even with a Choline-rich diet (the nutrient is most concentrated in animal sources), most of us still aren’t meeting the recommended daily intake—and this is especially true when trying to conceive, during pregnancy or postpartum when nursing, when an increase in Choline is needed.
Foods with the highest concentrations of Choline
- Eggs: 147 mg per egg
- Organ meat (liver and kidneys): 240 mg in 85 grams
- Fish (salmon, tuna and cod): 187 mg in 85 grams of salmon
- Shiitake mushrooms: 116 mg in 145 grams
- Soybeans: 214 mg in 160 grams
- Beef: 115 mg in 85 grams
- Poultry (chicken and turkey): 72 mg in 160 grams
- Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts): 72 mg in 160 grams
The benefits of Choline in a prenatal vitamin
It’s particularly important for Choline to be introduced early in your conception (or better yet, pre-conception) journey because it’s linked to a positive impact on neural tube development in pregnancy, which is some of the earliest development that happens, and reduces the risk of neural tube defects. It also helps to support liver and gallbladder health and helps the placenta to develop. Maternal levels of choline contribute to healthy brain and nerve function in the growing baby, even influencing cognitive function as an adult, and support development of the hippocampus which affects the brain in relation to learning, memory and attention.
The benefits of Choline for males, or people with sperm
Choline contributes to sperm motility—consider it the preferred fuel for the sperm motor. It also causes an increase in intracellular Calcium in sperm, which improves its ability to penetrate and fertilize the egg.
How much Choline is needed in pregnancy?
Choline is not only essential but also needs to be consumed in adequate amounts during pregnancy. Choline deficiency can alter DNA replication and cause mutations in DNA repair. Those who are vegan or vegetarian are particularly at risk for having low Choline levels. Your daily intake of Choline during pregnancy should be 450 mg (postpartum, this can increase to 550 mg if you are nursing). This supplies your growing baby with the brain building blocks necessary for development.