Into the Mouths of Babes

Found more in breast milk than formula, choline may enhance memory.

By PT Staff, published on March 1, 1993 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015


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.

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