When I was pregnant with my first child, I had major pregnancy brain. I created a whole new language with the number of new, and incorrect, words I made up to replace the ones I couldn’t remember. Everything was always lost. The remote control kept ending up in unusual places, seemingly transporting itself. Since remotes don’t do that, I knew I was the culprit.
The phenomenon isn’t just an old wives’ tale, and my experience wasn’t all in my head. During the third trimester of pregnancy, a mother-to-be experiences physical changes to her brain that often result in a lower volume of brain cells. (Don’t worry, ladies, it is reversible!)
Part of the reason for this is that babies draw on their mother’s reserves of choline for brain development. Choline is a water soluble macronutrient that supports a wide variety of physical processes, both in the brain and in other parts of the body. For example, choline is an important component to the proper functioning of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Studies have shown that children born to mothers with low levels of choline have lower learning and memory skills 18 months after birth when compared with their peers. On the flip side, children of mothers with higher than average choline levels have above average learning and memory skills.
The take home message here is that choline is essential for brain development. To confirm this finding, Dr. Steven Zeisel, Director of the Nutrition Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, gave choline to a group of rat pups. When compared to pups who had not received the treatments, these rats with extra choline in their systems had statistically significant memory enhancement. This enhancement lasted their entire lives.
Choline can be found in regular goods like eggs, chicken liver and beef liver. It is also a component of many nootropics.