Even before seeing those two little lines or experiencing early pregnancy symptoms, you want the very best for your baby. You’ve probably imagined what your baby will grow up to learn, who they’ll interact with and what their future pursuits will entail. Statistics all point to high cognitive function and improved education as being the bedrock for increased productivity and a higher standard of living later in life. The pressure to give your baby the very best can be overwhelming at times and downright terrifying at others, but let’s slow down for a minute. Before touring local kindergartens and adding your unborn baby’s name to every waiting list, let’s explore what you can do right now during pregnancy that will help you have a healthy and smart baby. A well-rounded and nutritionally-rich diet during pregnancy plays an important role in fetal brain development. Research has found that there are two specific nutrients that are essential to your baby’s brain development: folic acid (or folate in its natural form) and choline. Eating foods rich in folate and choline is only one part of the equation when it comes to prenatal nutrition, fetal brain development and optimal health for your growing baby. If you’ve just found out you’re pregnant, you’ll want to make sure you are getting the essential vitamins and nutrients in your diet as quickly as possible and this isn’t always achievable through food sources alone. You may experience a range of pregnancy symptoms, but one thing remains consistent and that is the need to take a high quality prenatal vitamin. This will ensure you and your baby get optimal prenatal nutritional support. In this post, we’ll be exploring the two nutrients that have clinically been shown to have a lasting impact on fetal brain development: choline and vitamin B9 (also known as folic acid or folate).
How Important is It to Take a Prenatal Multivitamin?
If you are a woman of childbearing age, it is very important! One large point of contention is preventing neural tube birth defects (NTDs). just 16 days after fertilization, an embryo forms the neural tube. The neural tube is the earliest nervous system tissue and eventually develops into the brain and the spinal cord. At only 16 days after fertilization, the embryo starts forming the neural tube which is the early nervous system tissue that later develops into the brain and the spinal cord. Most women don’t see a spike in their HCG levels until about week 6 (42 days after conception) so the neural tube has already started forming long before she finds out she's pregnant! Even if a woman isn’t intending to get pregnant, the CDC still recommends she takes at least 400 mcg of B9 either through a multivitamin or food source. Vitamin B9, also known as folic acid in its synthetic form or folate in its natural form, has been shown to drastically decrease the risk of neural tube birth defects. Luckily, if you haven’t been taking a prenatal, there are many modern-day food sources that have been fortified with essential nutrients including folic acid, the synthetic form of B9, for this very reason. As your body is creating a human life, you’ll experience many changes ranging from hormonal fluxes to weird food cravings and aversions. Typically these cravings are your body’s way of telling you that it needs certain nutrients. Stay one step ahead of your body’s nutritional needs and take a high quality prenatal vitamin that will help bridge the gap between your pregnancy diet and your growing belly's needs.
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Two Nutrients Critical to Your Baby’s Brain Health
The best prenatal vitamins on the market aren’t determined by their brand marketing or even the daily value of their nutrients. The best prenatal vitamins are determined by looking at the specific variation of the nutrient included. When it comes to your baby’s brain health and the lasting impact that their fetal brain development can have on their life, you’ll want too look for two specific nutrients: methylfolate and Alpha-glycerophosphocholine (Alpha-GPC). DNA methylation, the process that controls gene expression, utilizes the specific nutritional components folate (synthetically known as folic acid) and choline to ensure proper cell proliferation. There’s extensive research done on the importance on folate and its critical role in minimizing neural tube defects (NTDs) like spina bifida and other birth defects. Choline also plays a critical role during fetal brain development by influencing stem cell proliferation and altering brain and spinal cord structure and function. Choline intake during pregnancy is associated with higher visual memory at age 7 years and Alpha-GPC (choline), specifically, has been found to improve cognitive function by crossing the blood-brain barrier and increasing neurogenesis.
Folic Acid v. Folate
Folic acid is the most common form of the B9 vitamin found in prenatals. Folic acid has been fortified into many foods and has been clinically found to decrease the risks of neural tube defects, however, there’s building research that is pointing to possible issues with this synthetic form. It’s estimated that nearly 50% of the population has an MTHFR genetic mutation that limits or severely hinders one’s ability to convert folic acid into its active form, methylfolate. In order for folic acid to be converted into its active form it has to be converted in the liver and then go through another biochemical process before being converted into something your body can use. Here’s some highlights about the synthetic form of B9, folic acid, and its natural form, methylfolate.
Methylfolate is the most bioavailable version of folate and is immediately utilized by the body during DNA synthesis and methylation. It is free from the side effects that are associated with synthetic folic acid.
In one study conducted in the US, they found that women who took folic acid supplements during pregnancy gave birth to children who were more likely to be diabetic due to their decreased methylation levels on the DNA sequence that regulated the insulin-like growth factor.
Natural folate is commonly found in lentils, peas, leafy greens, broccoli, beets, peppers, avocado and more.
Choline is a water-soluble nutrient that’s often grouped together with the other B vitamins. It has been clinically shown to improve fetal brain development, and specifically been shown to improve the memory center of the fetal brain during the third trimester of pregnancy. Choline takes many forms and several prenatal vitamins on the market today have started adding it to their formulas. Unfortunately, the type of choline commonly added to prenatal vitamins is choline bitartrate, which has been shown to have no acute effects on memory. Luckily, there are other types of choline that have been studied during pregnancy and have been shown to improve fetal brain development. Here are some highlights about the benefits of CDP-choline and/or alpha-GPC (choline) during pregnancy and beyond!
Choline influences spinal cord structure and function and lifelong memory function.
Choline availability during fetal brain development improves embryonic development of the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory and recall.
Alpha-GPC, specifically, crosses the blood-brain barrier. A recent clinical study has even found it to be effective in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients by enhancing memory and cognitive function.
Giving your baby the very best at life starts by making sure your prenatal diet is as nutrient dense as possible. How adept your baby is at learning, retaining and conveying information in the future will come down to the nutritional foundation that you built while they’re in utero. Minimize the risk for neural tube defects in your baby and maximize their cognitive function by taking a prenatal supplement that has the most potent and bioavailable forms of nutrients. When it comes to your baby’s fetal brain development, make sure you look for one that uses natural folate (methylfolate) and alpha-GPC (choline). Most prenatal multivitamins on the market today do a good job of providing basic nutritional support, but these two critical nutrients are imperative for your baby’s brain health.