Pregnant women who take daily supplements of choline — an essential nutrient similar to B vitamin found in liver, muscle meats, fish, nuts, and eggs — may be able to reduce the risk of having babies who eventually develop schizophrenia, a new study suggests.
University of Colorado researchers, reporting in the American Journal of Psychiatry, said dietary choline supplements — given to women during pregnancy and to their newborns — were associated with a reduced risk of symptoms in the babies that indicate they are at risk of developing schizophrenia later in life.
Researcher Robert Freedman, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said the study breaks new ground in identifying a potential new way to combat the debilitating mental health disorder and spotlighting biomarkers of the disease long before the illness itself appears. SPECIAL: How One Deck of Cards Has Shown to Improve Memory
"Genes associated with schizophrenia are common, so prevention has to be applied to the entire population, and it has to be safe,” said Dr. Freedman. “Basic research indicates that choline supplementation during pregnancy facilitates cognitive functioning in offspring. Our finding that it ameliorates some of the pathophysiology associated with risk for schizophrenia now requires longer-term follow-up to assess whether it decreases risk for the later development of illness as well."
Choline has become an increasing focus of scientific research, with other studies tracking its potential benefits in combating liver disease, depression, memory loss, Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and certain types of seizures.
The Colorado researchers based their conclusions on a study of healthy pregnant women and their infants — half of whom took choline supplements twice a day and half of whom did not. The results showed 86 percent of infants exposed to prenatal and postnatal choline supplements did not display symptoms associated with mental processes tied to schizophrenia, compared to 43 percent of unexposed infants.
Schizophrenia does not usually appear until adolescence, but a particular trait measurable in infancy — abnormalities in how the brain responds to multiple clicking sounds — can flag infants at increased risk of developing the disorder later in life. It is this trait that Colorado researchers measured in the infants studied to reach their conclusions.