Healthy moms have healthier kids

Kids whose moms took folic acid while pregnant had better mental health, kids whose moms had good choline levels were less likely to have birth defects and pregnant moms who took carnitine maintained healthy levels, in three new studies.

Doctors in a child behavior study knew that mothers’ low folate levels can cause brain and spinal cord defects in babies, but wanted to see how folic acid supplements might also improve kids’ behavior. Researchers measured how much folic acid moms took during the first trimester, then evaluated over 4,200 of their children at 18 months. Kids whose moms did not take folic acid were 44 percent more likely to have developmental and behavioral problems compared to kids whose moms took folic acid.

Researchers in a birth defect study noted that folate is only part of the solution to birth defects, which occur even though U.S. manufacturers must add folic acid to foods. Doctors took blood samples from 180,000 pregnant California women and identified 80 whose children were born with birth defects. Scientists compared these samples with over 400 random samples from mothers whose kids did not have birth defects and found that moms with higher levels of one essential nutrient—choline—were much more likely to have kids without brain and spinal cord defects than were moms with low choline levels.

In a carnitine study, doctors said that nearly every cell in the body contains this energy-producing amino acid. The body uses iron to synthesize carnitine, but pregnant women may not have enough iron to do so. Researchers gave 26 healthy pregnant women 500 mg of L-carnitine per day or a placebo from the 13th week of pregnancy through birth.

At the end of the study, the placebo group had lost both carnitine and iron, while those in the carnitine group had maintained good carnitine levels.

British Journal of Nutrition; 2009, 1-8, electronic prepublication.
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