Pregnant mom Jessie Shafer takes Nature Made Prenatal Multi + DHA »because it was one of the most comprehensive I could find that included DHA but didn’t require me to take more than one pill a day.”
Pregnant women are easy customers in the supplement aisle, as even mainstream doctors will recommend a prenatal supplement for pregnant women.
Folic acid, a B vitamin, is recommended to help prevent neural tube defects. This condition affects some 3,000 infants in America each year according to the March of Dimes. Spina bifida, which affects the spine, is the most common neural tube defect.
The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends taking 400 to 800 mcg per day of folic acid. So pretty much all prenatal multis contain the required amount of folic acid (plus all the other vitamins and minerals needed to support both mother and child).
Individual nutrients have recently come to the fore, starting with omega-3 fatty acid DHA and probiotics.
DHA is known to promote healthy infant brain and eye growth and development (the brain and eyes are high in DHA compared to other organs) and may help lengthen gestation time. Lower DHA content is linked to poorer neonatal cognitive development and visual function.
Benefits on visual acuity up to 12 months have been observed with higher intakes of DHA. DHA has also been shown to improve neural signaling – you know, thoughts.
It remains somewhat unknown what the optimal dose of DHA should be for pregnant and breastfeeding women. The March of Dimes and the United Nations recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women have a minimum intake of 200 to 300 mg/day of DHA.
The Nature Made Prenatal that Shafer takes contains 200 mg of DHA.
A 2017 study found that only 9% of American women took DHA supplements during pregnancy, and the average intake was just 66 mg per day.
Probiotics have been used to help premature babies, particularly around the small infant’s ability to fight infection (sepsis) and prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.
But even in full-term infants, probiotics can help establish and maintain the nascent muscle barrier and give the little tyke’s microbiome a good start. Colonizing the gut early on is important for building a healthy immune system, which is considered essential for preventing atopic diseases like eczema and asthma. One of the best-studied probiotic strains, LGG, has been shown to do just that.
The new neonatal ingredient
Choline is a cousin of the B vitamins and the precursor to phosphatidylcholine (PC), which is a primary brick and mortar of cell walls. It is also a key component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which helps the brain communicate throughout the body.
Choline was only recognized by the Institute of Medicine in 1998, so there’s still a lot to learn. But that’s what makes it such a compelling story for consumers looking to get the most out of their baked bun.
The National Institutes of Health has released a choline fact sheet which states that the largest food source of choline is beef liver – one serving provides 356 mg, or 65% of the daily value. But who eats liver? yuck.
Number 2 on the list of food sources is hard-boiled eggs, which provide about a quarter of the daily value of choline.
Admit it, no one gets the right amount of choline from dietary sources – and that leaves us with supplements.
The NIH fact sheet recommends 450 mg per day for pregnant women and 550 mg per day for nursing mothers.
There are five areas of newborn health that can benefit from choline supplements.
- Neural tube defects, even with appropriate levels of folic acid.
- Newborn stress and preeclampsia (which you’ll recall killed that girl at Downton Abbey).
- Brain development after a mother’s illness. (Maternal infections have been linked to ADHD.)
- Memory. The Big Memory Study is a 2018 study from Cornell University that showed that pregnant women who took 930 mg of choline daily during the third trimester gave birth to infants with better information processing and visuospatial memory (ie, keeping track of the location of moving objects) that mothers taking only 480 mg per day. The study also showed that higher and longer intake of choline by mothers was associated with greater cognitive ability in babies up to 13 months of age. Cornell researchers are currently following up on this 2018 study and reported results suggesting the benefits accrue through age 7, with better attention, memory, and learning. Note that in this follow-up, all mothers received 480 mg of choline per day.
Dosage matters. And form matters. The type of choline used in Cornell’s research was VitaCholine, which is a brand name ingredient sold by Balchem Inc.
Discuss with your customers the value of choline. Remember that pregnant women buy supplements for two.
For a deeper dive into all things choline, download this free guide to choline from INITIATED Natural Products.