Washington, Sep 21 (IANS) Consuming choline, found in eggs and meat, during pregnancy may protect an infant from stress-related illness, including mental disturbances and hypertension, later in life, says a study.
Nutrition scientists and obstetricians at Universities of Cornell and Rochester Medical Center found that higher-than-normal amounts of choline in the diet during pregnancy changed epigenetic markers in the foetus.
Epigenetic markers are modifications on our DNA that tell our genes to switch on or off, to go gangbusters or keep a low profile.
While these markers don't change our genes, they make a permanent imprint by dictating their fate: If a gene is not expressed - turned on - it's as if it didn't exist, the FASEEB journal reported.
The finding became particularly exciting when researchers discovered that the affected markers were those that regulated the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA axis, which controls virtually all hormone activity in the body, including the production of the hormone cortisol that reflects our response to stress and regulates our metabolism, among other things.
More choline in the mother's diet led to a more stable HPA axis and consequently less cortisol in the foetus. As with many aspects of our health, stability is a very good thing, according to a Rochester statement.
Past research has shown that early exposure to high levels of cortisol, often a result of a mother's anxiety or depression, can increase a baby's lifelong risk of stress-related and metabolic disorders.
"The study is important because it shows that a relatively simple nutrient can have significant effects in prenatal life, and that these effects likely continue to have a long-lasting influence on adult life," said Eva K. Pressman, study author and director of the high-risk pregnancy program at Rochester Medical Centre.
"While our results won't change practice at this point, the idea that maternal choline intake could essentially change foetal genetic expression into adulthood is quite novel," said Pressman.
Pressman, who advises pregnant women every day, says choline isn't something people think a lot about because it is already present in many things we eat and there is usually no concern of choline deficiency.