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How to Have a Smarter Child

Heredity, of course, has a lot to do with how smart your child will turn out. But the environment in which he or she develops is an important factor.

Eat More Eggs?

Exciting news from animal research on choline, a substance plentiful in eggs, may have profound implications for developing babies, explains H. Scott Swartzwelder, PhD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Duke University in Durham, N.C. Nerve cells transform choline into acetylcholine, a chemical messenger involved in memory and lacking in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

When Swartzwelder gave pregnant rats a diet containing three times the usual amount of choline, their offspring did better on maze-learning and similar tests of spatial memory. They also had improved function in the brain region known as the hippocampus, which is vital for memory and learning. Conversely, offspring of rats lacking choline in their diet had fewer connections between nerve cells in the hippocampus and had trouble learning.

Because some women may become choline-deficient during pregnancy and breastfeeding, the Institute of Medicine increased the recommended choline requirement during pregnancy.

"I have three kids, and each time my wife got pregnant, the prenatal vitamin and supplement pill they prescribed for her got larger," Swartzwelder says.

Steven H. Zeisel, MD, professor and chairman of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will be studying the effect of choline-rich diet in about 100 pregnant women, and following the development of their babies over time.

Until the results are in, Swartzwelder sees no harm in most moms-to-be eating more eggs, nuts, meats, and other foods rich in choline. Of course, it's always wise to get your doctor's blessing before changing your diet drastically.

Even more exciting is Swartzwelder's unpublished research suggesting that the rat superstars whose mothers feasted on choline were protected from memory loss in later life. When he gave them a drug known to damage crucial areas of the hippocampus, they had less cell loss than did rats born to mothers fed a normal diet.

"It's really exciting to think that if we make a benign change in the diet of pregnant moms, we might be able to increase the intelligence of our children and even help prevent age-related diseases affecting memory," Swartzwelder says. "It's very fulfilling to me as a scientist to see human trials beginning. When my kids are having kids, maybe we'll know how to make healthier, smarter babies."

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