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Fall 2012
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Around the Quad

Prenatal Choline for Long-Term Health

Pregnant woman

Pregnant women may have added incentive to bulk up on broccoli and eggs: More choline during pregnancy can reduce a fetus’ response to stress and could cut a child’s chances of developing hypertension and diabetes later in life. In a 12-week study led by Marie Caudill, professor of nutritional sciences, pregnant women who consumed approximately double the recommended 450-mg daily intake of choline in their third trimester had babies with 33 percent lower concentrations of cortisol—the hormone produced in response to stress that also increases blood sugar—compared with a control group of pregnant mothers taking the recommended daily amount. Choline is a major supplier of methyl (CH3) groups, which can attach to targeted regions of the genome and affect the level of a gene’s expression. Caudill credits the extra choline during pregnancy with easing the baby’s response to stress through changes in the methylation and expression patterns of the genes that regulate cortisol, which would be expected to reduce the child’s lifetime risk of stress-related diseases.