Phosphatidylcholine supplementation in pregnant women consuming moderate-choline diets does not enhance infant cognitive function: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial

Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Dec;96(6):1465-72. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.037184. Epub 2012 Nov 7.


Background: Choline is essential for fetal brain development, and it is not known whether a typical American diet contains enough choline to ensure optimal brain development.

Objective: The study was undertaken to determine whether supplementing pregnant women with phosphatidylcholine (the main dietary source of choline) improves the cognitive abilities of their offspring.

Design: In a double-blind, randomized controlled trial, 140 pregnant women were randomly assigned to receive supplemental phosphatidylcholine (750 mg) or a placebo (corn oil) from 18 wk gestation through 90 d postpartum. Their infants (n = 99) were tested for short-term visuospatial memory, long-term episodic memory, language development, and global development at 10 and 12 mo of age.

Results: The women studied ate diets that delivered ∼360 mg choline/d in foods (∼80% of the recommended intake for pregnant women, 65% of the recommended intake for lactating women). The phosphatidylcholine supplements were well tolerated. Groups did not differ significantly in global development, language development, short-term visuospatial memory, or long-term episodic memory.

Conclusions: Phosphatidylcholine supplementation of pregnant women eating diets containing moderate amounts of choline did not enhance their infants' brain function. It is possible that a longer follow-up period would reveal late-emerging effects. Moreover, future studies should determine whether supplementing mothers eating diets much lower in choline content, such as those consumed in several low-income countries, would enhance infant brain development.

Trial registration: NCT00678925.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child Development*
  • Choline Deficiency / diet therapy*
  • Choline Deficiency / etiology
  • Choline Deficiency / physiopathology
  • Cognition*
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Dietary Supplements* / adverse effects
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lactation*
  • Language Development
  • Male
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Memory, Long-Term
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • North Carolina
  • Phosphatidylcholines / adverse effects
  • Phosphatidylcholines / therapeutic use*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / diet therapy
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Phosphatidylcholines

Associated data