A new study from researchers in the Departments of Psychiatry and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus found that pregnant women who take extra choline supplements may reduce the negative impact that the coronavirus and other respiratory infections have on their babies.
Choline, an essential nutrient, is key for fetal brain development.
The new study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, examined whether higher prenatal choline levels could safeguard the fetus’s developing brain even if the mother comes down with a respiratory virus.
The researchers studied mothers who had contracted a respiratory virus by analyzing a widely used indicator of the development of behavior in infants. Lower IBQ-R Regulation at one year of age is associated with problems in attention and social behavior in later childhood.
The results suggest that infants of mothers who had viral infections and higher choline levels significantly increased 3-month IBQ-R scores on the Regulation dimension and specifically the Attention scale in the Regulation dimension, compared to infants of mothers who had viral infections and had lower choline levels.
“Our results show that higher prenatal choline levels may help protect the fetus's developing brain even if the mother contracts a viral respiratory infection in early pregnancy,” the report noted.
The authors also note that increased maternal anxiety and depression in the virus-infected mothers were not linked to their infants’ IBQ-R Regulation.
Choline levels sufficient to protect the fetus often require dietary supplements.
“Previous pandemics have resulted in significantly increased levels of mental illnesses including schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit disorder in the offspring,” said Camille Hoffman, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
Robert Freedman, MD, professor of psychiatry at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and lead researcher said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that the coronavirus will impact fetal brain development like other common corona respiratory viruses.
“However, since data from COVID-19 itself will not be available for years, we’re hoping our study findings will provide valuable information for soon to be mothers on the importance of taking choline supplements daily during pregnancy,” added Hoffman.
The study concludes that choline supplements along with other prenatal vitamins may help protect the fetal brain from negative impacts of the novel coronavirus and decrease the risk of future mental illness in children.
“The key finding of this study is that higher prenatal choline levels are associated with decreased adverse effects on the infant's development if the mother has a moderately severe respiratory virus infection. In conjunction with the CDC's current advice on COVID-19's effects in pregnancy, phosphatidylcholine or choline supplements along with other prenatal vitamins may help buffer the fetal brain from the possible detrimental impact of the current pandemic and decrease the risk of the children's future mental illness,” the authors conclude.
Source: Journal of Psychiatric Research
2020; 128: 1 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2020.05.019
“Maternal choline and respiratory coronavirus effects on fetal brain development”
Authors: R. Freedman et al.