“Don’t drink, don’t smoke, and take your multi-vitamin.” Any pregnant woman can tell you this is the advice they receive from the moment they know they are pregnant. Extensive research in humans and animals has confirmed the long-term impact of nutrition during gestation.
Prenatal nutrition can permanently affect both tissues and organs, with life-long consequences to growth and health. Known as epigenetics, it’s the study of changes in gene function caused by the mother’s diet during gestation that are not related to the DNA makeup of the gene. These changes can predispose humans to increased risk of depression, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Choline is an essential nutrient that is neither a vitamin nor a mineral. While the liver produces it in small quantities, the majority of choline must come from dietary sources.
The crucial role choline plays in cellular function and lipid metabolism contributes to cognitive, cardiovascular, and liver health, as well as the maintenance of vigor during exercise. In 1998, the Institute of Medicine first established choline as an essential nutrient in humans. In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration set a recommended daily intake, allowing for Daily Value labeling. Within a year, there was a call for increased choline levels in prenatal vitamins.
You Are What Your Mother Eats
What a mother eats during pregnancy can affect her offspring. For expectant moms, studies show that higher prenatal choline intake during gestation was suggestive of improved infant cognitive function1. It may also be associated with reduced neural tube defects2, showing widespread in utero impact.
The same is true for the dairy cow. While we don’t necessarily need smarter cows, choline plays many roles in their life-long health. And healthier cows have significant economic advantages.
For the transition cow, choline is intricately involved in methyl group transfer, playing a role in both energy and protein metabolism, as well as gene expression and neurotransmission. It is an essential precursor for the synthesis of phosphatidylcholine (PC), a constituent of all cell membranes, including milk fat globule membranes. Choline is also required for lipoproteins and the transport of fat within and between organs.
Of particular importance to the dairy farmer is PC's role in synthesizing very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL). VLDL is responsible for exporting fat out of the liver, thus preventing fatty liver disease. It is estimated that this metabolic disorder costs the EU dairy industry more than €160 million annually.
Also, of importance to the dairy farmer, is choline’s role in the major epigenetic mechanism called methylation. Methylation is the addition of a methyl group to a specific site on a gene, which then influences how that gene is expressed. Methylation is critical to turning a gene on or off, which may explain some of the improved calf performance results seen when feeding ReaShure® Precision Release Choline to close-up dairy cows.
Choline contains three methyl groups, making it one of the richest and most cost-effective sources used in methylation. And the process has long-term health advantages science is continuing to unlock. Additional studies in both humans and sheep suggest methylation patterns can impact up to three generations of offspring.
Feeding ReaShure to dairy cows in late gestation had positive effects on both neonatal heifers' growth and survivability. This effect is further enhanced by feeding colostrum from dams receiving ReaShure.
Cows fed ReaShure produced colostrum with significantly higher Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody levels. This colostrum was also more efficiently absorbed by the calf, further adding to the benefit of feeding choline-rich ReaShure to close-up cows. Higher blood IgG and serum protein levels from this efficiently absorbed colostrum are two key indicators of better immunity and calf health.
Calves from mothers fed choline during late pregnancy had lower rates of fever and better respiratory health. Better health status allowed the calves to eat more milk replacer and starter. In addition, when exposed to a bacterial challenge, these calves had lower levels of stress indicators.
Improved immune status and overall health resulted in calves from cows fed choline having much higher survivability than calves from non-choline fed cows, even when compromised with the bacterial challenge. Calves that were not exposed to choline in utero or received colostrum from cows that did not receive choline had a 33% mortality rate with this bacterial challenge. Remarkably, when calves were exposed to choline in utero and received colostrum from dams fed choline, there were no deaths.
Beyond greater calf survivability, better health resulted in better average daily gain (ADG.) Table 1 shows calves exposed to choline in utero grew .045 kg per day faster from birth to 50 weeks of age despite identical nutrition and management post-calving. This translated into an additional 36 kg of body weight at first calving.
While we may not directly measure improved immune status's economic value, we can place value on increased ADG and body weight at calving. At a milk price of € 0,29 to € 0,58, this is an additional € 4.618 to € 9.237 in income (Table 2).
In the last 20 years, there has been unequivocal evidence showing choline supplementation during the transition period improves lactation performance and cow health. More recent research strongly suggests an in utero response to choline, which ultimately affects calf health and performance.
As we learn more about the implications of in utero programming, dry cow nutrition becomes even more important. Feeding essential nutrients to dams during critical periods of gestation can have immediate and long-term effects on their calves. Give the calf a head-start by feeding ReaShure®-XC Precision Release Choline.