Benefits of Choline During Pregnancy

Though it wasn’t listed as a required nutrient by the Institute of Medicine until 1998, choline is essential to human health.1 The adequate intake for choline is higher during pregnancy and lactation.1-4

What is choline?

Choline is an organic, water-soluble compound that promotes good health.1 The liver can produce small amounts of the nutrient, but ultimately, choline should be consumed mainly via diet.1

The compound is crucial to our standard bodily function.1 It is linked to liver function, brain development, muscle capacity, neurological health, and metabolism.1 And while it isn’t a vitamin or a mineral, choline is often associated with the vitamin B complex.1

Specifically, the essential nutrient supports the following processes:

Cell structure and messaging: Choline helps to produce the fats that make cell membranes structurally sound.1 It’s also used to produce the compounds that support communication between the cells.1

Fat transport and metabolism: Choline assists in the production of a substance that removes cholesterol from the liver.1 Without enough choline, fat and cholesterol risk building up.1

Healthy nerve activity: Choline is used to produce an important neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.1 Acetylcholine is linked to memory, muscle movement, cardiovascular regulation, and a healthy nervous system in general.1

DNA synthesis and gene expression: Along with vitamins like B12 and folate, choline plays an important role in DNA methylation.1

In short, adequate amounts of this essential nutrient encourage good health—especially during pregnancy.1,2

Why is choline important during pregnancy?

Choline supports fetal brain development during pregnancy.1-3 Some evidence suggests it lowers the risk of neural tube defects.4

Not only that, but a study from Cornell University reveals that getting enough choline during pregnancy offers long-lasting cognitive benefits for the child.2  

According to Marie Caudill, Cornell University professor, “In animal models using rodents, there’s widespread agreement that supplementing the maternal diet with additional amounts of this single nutrient has lifelong benefits on offspring cognitive function…Our study provides some evidence that a similar result is found in humans.”2

This is significant because most pregnant women do not consume enough choline.2 One source suggests that approximately 90 to 95% of pregnant women consume less choline than the daily recommended amount.3

So how much choline is considered the adequate intake for adults—including pregnant women?

The average adult male requires approximately 550 mg of choline per day, while the average adult female requires about 425 mg of choline per day.1 Pregnant women generally need to consume 450 mg of choline per day for optimal health.1,2

The risk of choline deficiency is typically greater among pregnant or lactating women who do not take the recommended amount of folate, along with those facing low vitamin B12 levels and those who have a variant in an enzyme that affects folate status (called methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase).3

This means that if you are pregnant or nursing and you aren’t getting enough choline through diet alone, you may want to discuss supplementation with your healthcare practitioner.3

What are the main dietary sources of choline?

High quantities of the nutrient can generally be found in the following foods:2

  • Eggs
  • Lean red meats, poultry, and fish
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Legumes and nuts

As a point of reference, a single egg will account for roughly 20 to 25 percent of a typical adult’s daily choline requirement.1 More specifically, the food sources that contain the most choline include:1

  • Egg yolks
  • Beef and chicken liver
  • Cod and salmon
  • Cauliflower and broccoli
  • Soybean oil

Are you consuming enough of this essential nutrient?

If you are pregnant and uncertain of whether you’re getting enough choline, be sure to contact a healthcare practitioner for more information. Your doctor can help you check in with your diet, make sure your choline levels are sufficient, and recommend a prenatal or alternative supplement if needed.

For more information on nutrition and general wellness topics, please visit the Metagenics blog.


1. Brown MJ. What is choline? An essential nutrient with many benefits. Healthline. Accessed July 30, 2019.
2. Ramanujan K. Adequate choline in pregnancy may have cognitive benefits for offspring. Cornell Chronicle. Accessed July 30, 2019.
3. National Institutes of Health Staff. Choline | Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH. Accessed July 30, 2019.
4. Shaw GM et al. Periconceptional dietary intake of choline and betaine and neural tube defects in offspring. Am J Epidemiol. 2004;160(2):102-109.

Submitted by Metagenics Team

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