The finding by a team of biologists at Boston University is the first to link choline consumption during pregnancy to breast cancer. It also is the first to identify possible choline-related genetic changes that affect breast cancer survival rates.
"We've known for a long time that some agents taken by pregnant women, such as diethylstibesterol, have adverse consequences for their daughters," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.
"But there's an upside. The emerging science of epigenetics has yielded a breakthrough. For the first time, we've learned that we might be able to prevent breast cancer as early as a mother's pregnancy," the expert added.
The researchers made the discovery in rats by studying females whose mothers were fed varying amounts of choline during pregnancy. Different groups of pregnant rats received diets containing standard amounts of choline, no choline at all, or extra choline.
Then the researchers treated the female offspring with a chemical that causes cancer of the mammary gland (breast cancer). Although animals in all groups developed mammary cancer, the daughters of mothers that had received extra choline during pregnancy had slow growing tumors while daughters of mothers that had no choline during pregnancy had fast growing tumors.
"Our study provides additional support for the notion that choline is an important nutrient that has to be considered when dietary guidelines are developed," said Krzysztof Blusztajn, Ph.D., Professor of Pathology at Boston University and the study's senior researcher.
"We hope it will be possible to develop nutritional guidelines for pregnant women that ensure the good health of their offspring well into old age," the expert added.