Health Benefits of DHA and Phosphatidylcholine During Pregnancy

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and phosphatidylcholine are two nutrients with multiple benefits, including the support of brain health, liver function, and cell membrane structure. Both are critical for a healthy pregnancy, and our article outlines food and supplement sources of each.

By: Jordan Stachel, MS, RDN
Medically Reviewed by: Cara Everett, MS, RDN, LDN
Publication Date: March 7, 2024
Estimated Reading Time: 4-5 minutes

DHA and phosphatidylcholine both play critical roles in the body, particularly during the earliest years of life beginning in pregnancy. We'll discuss each nutrient and point you to good sources of DHA and phosphatidylcholine in foods and prenatal vitamins.

What is DHA?

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that plays vital role in brain health, eye development, and cellular processes.(1) Along with another omega-3 fat called EPA and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), DHA contributes to the health of every cell in the body by keeping cell membranes flexible. Other roles of DHA include lowering inflammation and blood triglyceride levels.(2) 

DHA is particularly important during key life stages like pregnancy and infancy when the brain and eyes are developing and cells are multiplying at a rapid rate.(3) In addition, studies show that adequate intake of DHA by mothers in pregnancy lowers the chance of preterm birth.(4)

Read more about the importance of DHA in pregnancy on our blog.

What is Phosphatidylcholine?

Phosphatidylcholine is a phospholipid that includes the one-carbon nutrient choline in its structure. Like DHA, phosphatidylcholine plays several important roles in the body, including:(5)

  • Serving as the main component of cell membranes
  • Supporting nerve function and neurotransmitter production
  • Transporting fats out of the liver to other tissues and organs
  • Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels for heart health
  • Supporting brain development and function

Your body uses phosphatidylcholine during pregnancy in high amounts, and it’s also shared with your baby for the following functions:

  • Development of cell membranes
  • Fat metabolism in the liver
  • Development of the nervous system
  • Brain and nerve cell function

Researchers have also found that maternal supplementation with phosphatidylcholine in pregnancy can help prevent behavioral problems in children.(6)

Because phosphatidylcholine is so important for developing babies, estrogen turns on one of the major enzymes needed to make it during pregnancy. However studies have found over 70% of women have one or more genetic variants that affect the amount of phosphatidylcholine and choline their body can make.(7) 

For these women, it's crucial to get enough from their diet and/or prenatal supplements. A prenatal genetic screening test like Genate can identify genetic variants that affect your body’s phosphatidylcholine production.

DHA and Phosphatidylcholine Benefits in Pregnancy

Phosphatidylcholine and DHA are vital for your baby's development in the first 100 days after conception, which includes pregnancy through the first two years of life. 

Both your baby’s brain and the rest of their body are developing rapidly in this period, and phosphatidylcholine and DHA work together to support brain and cellular growth and function. 

First, phosphatidylcholine attaches to DHA in the liver to help transport DHA through the blood and into your baby’s brain, where it’s needed for brain development. Studies in mice show that supplementation with both DHA and choline (which the body can make into phosphatidylcholine) results in higher uptake of DHA into the brain.(8)

Second, both nutrients are key components of cell membranes, providing structure and helping cells communicate with each other in the body.(9)

Sources of DHA and Phosphatidylcholine

The body can’t make much DHA, so we must get it from foods or supplements.

The top food sources of DHA include:(10)

  • Deep cold water fish (salmon, cod, tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring)
  • Shellfish

Salmon filets on wax paper

Photo by CA Creative/Unsplash

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fat that can be converted to DHA by the body in small amounts. You can find ALA in the following foods:

  • Grass-fed dairy and meats
  • Eggs from chickens fed a diet high in omega-3 fats
  • Some plant oils (flaxseed, soybean, canola)
  • Certain nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, chia, flax)

Fish oil and omega-3 supplements also contain DHA in varying amounts. Supplement manufacturers source their DHA from fish oil, krill oil, or algae. Consult your healthcare provider before starting any supplement.

Jars with nuts and seeds

Photo by Maddi Bazzocco/Unsplash]

Phosphatidylcholine and choline are also available in a variety of foods. Some of the best food sources include:

  • Beef liver and other organ meats
  • Red meat
  • Eggs
  • Caviar
  • Fish (salmon, tuna, cod)
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Soybeans

You can also find choline and phosphatidylcholine in supplement form. When shopping for prenatal multivitamins, be sure to choose one like the Genate Essential Prenatal with choline and other one-carbon nutrients to support your baby's brain development.

Plated steak dinner

Photo by Eduardo Roda Lopes/Unsplash

Phosphatidylcholine and DHA Bottom Line

Pregnancy is an exciting time, and nourishing yourself and your growing baby with the right vitamins and minerals is vital. Phosphatidylcholine and DHA are two of the most important nutrients for your baby's cognitive development.

The Genate Test checks for gene variants that affect how your body processes a variety of nutrients, including phosphatidylcholine and DHA. You can use this information to create a diet and supplement plan that provides the right amount of each nutrient. With the optimal foods and supplements for your genetics, you can help your baby get the best possible start in life.

This article is not intended as medical advice to treat or diagnose any health condition, but rather as educational health information for the general public. It should not be used as a substitute for individualized medical care from your healthcare provider. 

About The Author

Jordan is an RDN who holds a Master’s degree in Dietetics from The University of Southern California. She has many years of experience helping clients reach their health goals through her clinical work within private practice. It can be difficult for individuals to discern between nutrition information that is both credible and relevant versus misinformation and conflicting guidance. As an expert in the field, Jordan finds great fulfillment in filling this gap by providing detailed clarification and explanation by leading the discussion surrounding nutrition and wellness. Jordan looks forward to continuing to help others achieve the most optimal version of themselves and improve their longevity and to being a dependable source and voice within the field of nutrition and dietetics.


  1. Mount Sinai Health System. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Accessed January 9, 2024.
  2. Weiser MJ, Butt CM, Mojajeri MH. Docosahexaenoic acid and cognition throughout the lifespan. Nutrients. 2016;8(2):99. https://doi.org10.3390/nu8020099
  3. Cleveland Clinic. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Published November 17, 2022. Accessed January 9, 2024.
  4. National Institutes of Health. Science update: High-dose DHA influences immune responses during pregnancy, may reduce risk of preterm birth. Published January 21, 2022. Accessed January 9, 2024.
  5. van der Veen JN, Kennelly JP, Wan S, Vance JE, Vance DE, Jacobs RL. The critical role of phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine metabolism in health and disease. Biochimica et Biomedica (BBA)- Biomembranes. 2017;1859(9B):1558-1572.
  6. Ross RK, Hunter SK, Hoffman MC, McCarthy L, Chambers BM, Law AJ, et al. Perinatal Phosphatidylcholine Supplementation and Early Childhood Behavior Problems: Evidence for CHRNA7 Moderation. Am J Psychiatry. 2016;173(5):509-516.
  7. da Costa K, Kozyreva OG, Song J, Galanko JA, Fischer LM, Zeisel SH. Common genetic polymorphisms affect the human requirement for the nutrient choline. FASEB J. 2006;20:1336-1344.
  8. Korsmo HW, Jiang X, Caudill MA. Choline: Exploring the growing science on its benefits for moms and babies. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1823.
  9. Dai Y, Tang H, Pang S. The crucial roles of phospholipids in aging and lifespan regulation. Front. Physiol. 2021;12. 
  10. National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Published July 18, 2022. Accessed January 9, 2024.

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