There have been many studies investigating the ways that the brain develops and which supplements play essential roles in helping the brain grow and function at maximum capacity. One such nutrient is choline. Choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important in memory and cognitive function in the brain. For this reason studies have been conducted on choline and its role in brain development areas involved in cognitive function and memory.
One study by (Zeisel, 2004) looked at choline as a dietary supplement. Researchers found that in utero (early development) rat offspring whose mothers received choline supplements had noticeable brain function change in the hippocampus resulting in increased lifelong memory enhancement. The rat offspring also displayed faster learning abilities and larger brain cells compared to normal diet rats. The researchers commented that changes in the brain were noticeable enough that they could distinguish between rats born in the control group, and those rats whose mothers had been given choline supplements during their pregnancy. Other related studies have made connections with prenatal choline supplements resulting in better learning in mice born with Down’s syndrome.
In a food questionnaire study, it was found that adults who reported eating a diet with choline high foods scored higher on memory tests. Individuals with reported higher intake of choline also were less likely to show white matter hyperintensity on brain scans suggesting that they have a decreased risk of dementia or stroke in the future. This study also factored in other supplement nutrients such as vitamins B6 and B12 and still came to the same conclusion about the positive benefits of choline on brain health.
In addition low levels of choline have shown increased likelihood neural tube defects in babies of women who have a deficiency of choline in their blood during prenatal periods. Low choline has also been connected to later development of Alzheimer’s and other brain problems due to ageing and degrading cells in the brain.
As a side note in connection to our discussions around schizophrenia, mothers who were given phosphatidylcholine (a supplemental precursor to choline) during their 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy had babies who were twice as likely to respond correctly to a clicking noise test used as an analytical test for “markers” of increased risk for developing schizophrenia (University of Colorado).
The overall conclusion is that the evidence seems to suggest choline has a beneficial effect on brain growth and development both during prenatal periods and as an adult and can increase memory and cognitive function. While some may claim that the increased growth and increase in memory is not unarguably significant, it still seems that choline plays an important role in preventing or at least slowing the “pathway toward mental decline” including dementia and Alzheimer’s.
As a medical application, some pharmaceutical companies are looking into drug development with phosphatidylcholine to prevent cognitive decline and regrow brain cells and neural connections. Furthermore, efforts have been made to use phosphatidylcholine, due to its role in building cell membranes, to protect the digestive tract and help treat gastrointestinal issues. Choline is naturally contained in several foods such as eggs, soybeans, liver, and broccoli. It is also available in supplement form.