Nutrients in eggs work together to support infant brain development
- Maternal intake of eggs and the nutrients found in eggs (choline, lutein/zeaxanthin, DHA) may have a synergistic association with fetal neurodevelopment, which suggests that eggs provide more nutritional value than just the sum of their parts.
- Since brain development is most rapid between conception and 24 months, pregnant women should be encouraged to include eggs in their diets.
“Brain development is most rapid during the first 1,000 days, from conception to age 24 months, and adequate nutrition is critical for this process. Key nutrients include fat (particularly long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids…), protein, iron, iodine, zinc, copper, choline, and the B vitamins.”1 While there is significant evidence demonstrating a positive impact of single nutrients2,3 there are no studies that have investigated the interaction of nutrients on fetal brain development. A new study published in Nutritional Neuroscience found that maternal intake of eggs and nutrients found in eggs (i.e., choline, lutein/zeaxanthin, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)) have synergistic associations with fetal neurodevelopment, suggesting eggs are more than the sum of its parts.
This recent study conducted at the University of Kansas Medical Center was a secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial evaluating the effect of different doses of DHA on fetal and infant brain developmen4. Dietary data were collected to evaluate egg and nutrient intake during pregnancy, and measures of fetal neurodevelopment were assessed at 32 and 36 weeks gestation. A significant interaction between maternal choline intake and lutein/zeaxanthin intake and fetal brain maturation was found at both 32 and 36 weeks gestation. The interaction between choline intake, lutein/zeaxanthin intake, and DHA predicted brain maturation at 36 weeks, which suggests a synergistic impact. Maternal egg intake also predicted measures of fetal neurodevelopment at both 32 and 36 weeks. The authors conclude that egg consumption should be encouraged among pregnant women.2
Similar results were found in a previous study at the University of North Carolina. In this study, higher human milk choline and lutein levels, as well as higher choline and DHA levels, were associated with better recognition memory in 6-month old infants.3 In this secondary analysis of a larger study with exclusively breastfed infants, the authors concluded, “interactions between human milk nutrients appear important in predicting infant cognition, and there may be a benefit to specific nutrient combinations.”
Eggs provide various amounts of all of the nutrients listed by the American Academy of Pediatrics as essential for brain growth,5 including 12% Daily Value (DV) of high quality protein, 6% DV for zinc, 4% DV for iron, 25% DV for choline, 6% DV for folate, 20% DV for iodine, 8% DV for vitamin A, 6% DV for vitamin D, 6% DV for vitamin B6, 20% DV for vitamin B12, 18 mg α-linolenic acid (ALA), 29 mg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), as well as 252 mcg lutein + zeaxanthin.6 Overall, we know these nutrients are individually linked to brain health, but growing evidence suggests there can be important interactions among key nutrients.2,3,7 Intervention trials are needed to confirm findings for brain development, however, these new data support recommendations that include egg consumption by pregnant women and children.
Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. 2020; Available from: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/ScientificReport_of_the_2020DietaryGuidelinesAdvisoryCommittee_first-print.pdf.
Christifano, D.N., et al., Intake of eggs, choline, lutein, zeaxanthin, and DHA during pregnancy and their relationship to fetal neurodevelopment. Nutr Neurosci, 2022: p. 1-7.
Cheatham, C.L. and K.W. Sheppard, Synergistic Effects of Human Milk Nutrients in the Support of Infant Recognition Memory: An Observational Study. Nutrients, 2015. 7(11): p. 9079-95.
Gustafson, K.M., et al., Prenatal docosahexaenoic acid effect on maternal-infant DHA-equilibrium and fetal neurodevelopment: a randomized clinical trial. Pediatr Res, 2022. 92(1): p. 255-264.
Schwarzenberg, S.J. and M.K. Georgieff, Advocacy for Improving Nutrition in the First 1000 Days to Support Childhood Development and Adult Health. Pediatrics, 2018. 141(2).
U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central SR Legacy — Egg, whole, raw, fresh. 2019 April 1, 2019; Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171287/nutrients.
Klatt, K.C., et al., Prenatal choline supplementation improves biomarkers of maternal docosahexaenoic acid status among pregnant participants consuming supplemental DHA: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr, 2022.