|July 21, 2010|
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Prenatal diets lacking in choline – an essential nutrient found in all cell membranes – result in fewer blood vessels in the brains of developing fetuses, according to a mouse study by UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) scientists.
The findings, published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could be of great importance to women. According to NRI director Steven Zeisel, MD, PhD, “most pregnant women in the United States have diets that are choline-deficient – only 14 percent of expecting mothers in the U.S. are eating enough choline.”
Pregnant women with the lowest amount of choline are four times more likely to have babies with birth defects than are women who eat the most. Choline-rich foods include milk, egg yolks, soybeans, beef, chicken, peanuts, wheat germ, flax seeds, sesame seeds, potatoes, cauliflower, lentils and oats.
To test whether choline directly affects fetal blood vessel formation, Zeisel and colleagues fed choline-deficient and control diets to pregnant mice and then examined the brains of the pups. The researchers report that choline-deficient fetal mice had fewer hippocampal blood vessels than the control group, which was fed a normal diet. In addition, the choline-deficient diet correlated to high levels of two growth factors that regulate new blood vessel formation.
The research complements previous studies that link low choline intake to a decreased production of nerve cells in the brain of fetal mice brought about because choline regulates the genes that make stem cells divide.
The UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI), part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is located on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. The NRI is dedicated to developing the field of individualized nutrition – understanding variance in people’s DNA, metabolism and nutrient requirements and how this impacts health.
Long term, the NRI’s discoveries will lead to individually tailored nutrition recommendations that will allow people to customize their diets in order to maximize wellness and reduce risk of disease.
Its director, Dr. Steven Zeisel, is Kenan Distinguished Professor of nutrition at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.