Into the Mouths of Babes


WHATEVER ELSE IT TAKES to produce a smart baby, a team of nutritionist-psychologists adds one more - choline. They find that it may be possible to permanently enhance memory by increasing the intake of this nutrient during a baby's development in the womb and in the first few months of life.

So far, psychologist Warren Meck, Ph.D., of Columbia University and his colleagues have worked only with rats, but the results have been so dramatic they believe that choline supplementation may also have "quite robust" effects on other young animals - including humans. In their studies, choline produces long-lasting biochemical changes in developing nerve cells, boosts memory function and precision above normal levels, and stalls age-related decline in memory.

Choline, explains Meck, is a major building block of neuronal membranes. It's also an important precursor of acetylcholine - a neurotransmitter known to be involved in memory.

Meck isn't sure where and how supplemental choline acts in the brain. It may trigger increases in nerve growth factor, for example, helping neurons to generate and regenerate, and delaying the brain cell damage associated with aging. Or it may restructure the neurons that respond to it by making them larger and rounder so they'll deliver memory messages more effectively in the future.

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Mothers may want to rethink the use of infant formula. It's far lower in choline content than breast milk. Meck believes that the high choline content of mother's milk - at its highest the first few days after birth - is of "critical importance in memory development, the determination of adult memory capacity, and resistance to age-related memory impairments."

As one team member says: "When we make dietary choices that take us away from normal evolution, we have to consider future consequences."

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