WASHINGTON Giving a vitamin called choline to babies whose mothers drank too much alcohol while pregnant might help overcome some of their resulting deficits, U.S researchers said on Thursday.
Choline, found in peanut butter, iceberg lettuce and soy, among other foods, affects brain development and may help repair some of the damage done by alcohol, the team at San Diego State University found.
"These findings have important implications for children exposed to alcohol prenatally and suggest that dietary interventions implemented after birth may reduce the severity of some fetal alcohol effects," the researchers wrote in their report, published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.
Jennifer Thomas and colleagues tested 170 rats, giving their pregnant mothers alcohol before they were born and then giving some of the pups choline after birth.
As expected, the newborn rats were overactive and had learning problems. But they improved when given choline.
"Choline is not going to be a panacea for all symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders," Thomas cautioned in a statement. "Women need to be continually reminded of the damaging effects of alcohol on the developing fetus."
Choline helps brain cells develop, and the body uses it to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter or message-carrying chemical involved in learning and cognition.
Women are advised to consume 450 mg a day of the vitamin while pregnant and 550 mg a day while breast feeding.
In the United States, choline is added to some prenatal vitamins, baby formulas, children's multivitamins and cereals.