According to a recent study, pregnant women with low levels of the nutrient choline are at a greater risk of having babies affected by brain and spinal-cord defects.
Stanford University School of Medicine researchers collected hundreds of thousands of blood samples from pregnant women and measured the levels of 13 nutrients that play a role in proper formation of the neural tube.
They found that a total of 80 pregnancies were affected by neural tube defects, and they were able to determine that levels of choline were the factor that separated mothers whose infants had defects from those whose babies did not.
In fact, the risk for the defects was 2.4 times higher in women who had sufficient levels of the nutrient, according to Dr. Gary Shaw, professor of neonatology and primary author of the study.
"You can’t change an individual’s genetic predisposition to these defects," says Dr. Louanne Hudgins, division chief of medical genetics at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, who did not participate in the study.
"But nutrition components to NTD risk are ripe for therapy," she adds.
Choline is usually grouped within the vitamin B complex and as such can be obtained from nutritional supplements.