Future Directions in Choline Symposium Part One

Posted: November 28, 2023

Podcast Topic

Today’s episode was filmed at the Future Directions in Choline Symposium put on by the University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute.


Dr. Stephen Hursting & Dr. Susan Smith, University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute; Dr. Steven Zeisel, University of North Carolina; Dr. Kevin Klatt, University of California, Berkeley; Dr. Richard Canfield, Cornell University; Dr. Colin Carter, Columbia University; Dr. Joe McFadden, Cornell University

Episode 90: Future Directions in Choline Symposium Part One


Our first guests are Dr. Stephen Hursting and Dr. Susan Smith, the director and deputy director of the UNC Nutrition Research Institute. Steve and Susan give some background regarding the inspiration behind the conference as well as what will be covered during the symposium. The gathering is an opportunity to get the leading choline researchers together to update each other and build the momentum of choline research. The last time choline researchers gathered was in 1998, when requirements were set. (0:50)

Next up is Dr. Kevin Klatt with the University of California – Berkeley. His symposium talk consisted of choline and DHA, focusing on two areas of his work. The first is dietary choline’s impact on the production of phosphatidylcholine species enriched in the omega-three DHA, specifically in pregnancy. The second is interactions between lauric acid and choline, where a phosphatidylcholine species can actually bind to proteins that turn genes on and off. In one experiment, Kevin’s group hypothesized that inadequate choline intake during pregnancy compromises the efficient handling of DHA by the liver. They showed in a randomized controlled trial that supplementation with choline dramatically improved the status indicators of DHA status. (17:33)

Our fourth segment features Dr. Richard Canfield from Cornell University, whose symposium talk focused on choline and neurodevelopment. Rick is a developmental psychologist by training who works in infant and early child cognition. He has researched visual cognition and speed of information processing with babies in the first year of life for women who received a diet containing the recommended intake of choline and those who received double the recommended intake during pregnancy. They found that cognition improved for babies in the high choline group over their first year of age, which was maintained until seven years of age. The cohort is now 14 years old, and additional testing is being conducted to see if in utero exposure to choline still impacts the children 14 years later. (29:51)

Dr. Robert Colin Carter from Columbia University is our next guest. His talk focused on choline and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). His research has mainly been fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, with a particular interest in how both maternal and child nutrition might impact the teratogenic effects of alcohol. Prenatal alcohol exposure is the most common preventable cause of developmental delay worldwide, and a common view might be that women should just stop drinking. Dr. Carter argues that view is shortsighted because alcohol use is a really complicated problem for a lot of people. Asking someone who has an alcohol use disorder to stop drinking is probably not realistic for a lot of women. In animal models, supplementing a pregnant dam with choline seems to ameliorate at least some of the teratogenic effects of alcohol. Dr. Carter has completed a pilot study of 70 women from South Africa where beneficial effects of choline treatment during pregnancy were observed for growth, neurobehavior, and memory in their children. Another clinical study with 300 participants is now underway. (51:38)

We end our day one episode with a wrap-up from Dr. Dr. Susan Smith with the University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute and Dr. Joe McFadden with Cornell University. Susan emphasized the recurring message that choline is so important in prenatal health and in early postnatal periods. Pregnant and lactating women generally don’t take enough choline, and choline is so important for healthy brain development in the fetus and the infant. Joe’s takeaways from the livestock side of things include the impact of choline on colostrum production in animals and early-life supplementation in young livestock. (1:08:42)

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