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
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
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,"
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
Even more exciting is Swartzwelder's unpublished research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."