Investigators in a new study are recommending that pregnant women take choline during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, after finding that the supplement may mitigate the negative impacts of viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19, on newborns.

The study examined whether higher prenatal choline levels can help protect the fetus’ developing brain, even if the mother contracts a viral respiratory infection in early pregnancy. They found that choline, a vitamin B nutrient critical to fetal brain development, was particularly important.

“It’s important for the health care community, and soon to be mothers, to be aware that a natural nutrient can be taken during pregnancy, just like folic acid and other prenatal vitamins, to protect fetuses and newborns from brain development issues,” said lead researcher Robert Freedman, MD, in a statement. “Later on in life, these development issues can lead to mental illness.”

The investigators analyzed how a respiratory virus contracted by the mother affected infant behavior by measuring the child’s IBQ-R Regulation (IBQ-R) dimension, which examines the development of attention and other self-regulatory behaviors. At 1 year of age, lower IBQ-R is associated with problems in attention and behavior in later childhood, including decreased reading readiness at age 4 and problems in concentration and conscientiousness through 7 years of age.

Their results showed that the infants of mothers who had viral infections and higher choline levels had significantly increased 3-month IBQ-R scores on the Regulation dimension, specifically the Attention scale in the Regulation dimension, compared with the children of mothers with lower choline levels. Furthermore, they noted that choline levels high enough to protect the fetus often require dietary supplementation.

“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 University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “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.”

REFERENCE
Extra Choline May Help Pregnancy Women Decrease Negative Effects of COVID-19 on Their Newborns [news release]. CU Anschutz Medical Campus; June 1, 2020. https://news.cuanschutz.edu/news-stories/extra-choline-may-help-pregnant-women-decrease-negative-effects-of-covid-19-on-their-newborns. Accessed July 30, 2020.