Consuming the nutrient choline -- found in broccoli, eggs and milk -- during pregnancy could help to reduce the risk of the child later developing diabetes or high blood pressure, a new study suggests.
Researchers from Cornell University found in the 12-week study that consumption of 930 milligrams of choline a day by women in their third trimester of pregnancy is linked with a 33 percent decreased concentration of cortisol -- the stress hormone -- in their babies. This is compared with a control group of pregnant women who consumed 430 milligrams of choline a day.
The choline intake linked with the decreased cortisol is more than twice as much as is currently recommended, which is 450 milligrams a day, researchers reported.
"The study findings raise the exciting possibility that a higher maternal choline intake may counter some of the adverse effects of prenatal stress on behavioral, neuroendocrine and metabolic development in the offspring," study researcher Marie Caudill, associate professor of nutritional sciences, said in a statement.
"A dampening of the baby's response to stress as a result of mom consuming extra choline during pregnancy would be expected to reduce the risk of stress-related diseases such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes throughout the life of the child," Caudill added in the statement.
The researches said that choline may work at decreasing cortisol by altering gene pattern expressions that are responsible for the making of cortisol.
"This study provides compelling evidence that maternal choline intake during the third trimester of human pregnancy can modify global and site-speciﬁc epigenetic marks in fetal-derived tissues," the researchers wrote in the study.
However, Caudill cautioned that more research is needed to confirm the results of the study, as well as to see long-term what the effects would be of a pregnant woman's increased choline consumption. The research is published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Choline is a nutrient that is vital to proper functioning of the body. Everyone -- even people who are not pregnant -- has a daily recommended amount to consume per day. For adults ages 19 and older the suggested amount is 425 milligrams per day for women and 550 milligrams per day for men. For children ages 1 to 13, the recommended amounts range from 200 to 375, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.
However, it is possible to have too much choline. (Click here to read more about the health effects of too much choline.)
The most plentiful sources of choline in the diet include a 3-ounce serving of pan fried beef liver, which has 355 milligrams of choline; one cup of toasted wheat germ, which has 172 milligrams of choline; and one large egg, which has 126 milligrams of choline, the Linus Pauling Institute reported.