Lead and choline

A democratic republic can only survive and flourish if its citizens are well-educated. However, such an educated society can only exist if the overall majority of its citizens has the individual cognitive ability to handle proper education. In other words a democratic republic is only possible as its citizens have a certain degree of general intelligence.

The consequence of this line of thought, is that the government of a democratic republic should implement a policy to maintain a baseline level of intelligence of the general population, and to do whatever possible to increase this level of intelligence. However, since human intelligence is to a large extent determined by biology, it will be hard to develop such a policy.

It is suspected that human intelligence is largely a genetic trait, but scientists still understand little what specific genes are involved – recent studies estimates that over a hundred genes are involved in human intelligence. Consequently, genetic engineering of humans is not feasible as a method to increase average intelligence of society – at least not for the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, this does not mean there is nothing the government can do to improve general intelligence in its citizens. With increased understand of the fetal development of the human brain, we can identify substances that have either a positive or a negative effect on human intelligence. Two substances of great importance in this perspective are lead and choline.

Lead is known to have an adverse effect on the development of the human brain both during and after pregnancy. Even in very low concentration, lead has devastating effects on human neural development. More specific lead replaces calcium in the brain and cause the degradation of white brain matter, with decreased neural connectivity as a result [1]. Secondly exposure to lead results in a structural loss of grey brain matter, which is responsible for, among other things, verbal reasoning and mental flexibility [2].

Since environmental lead exposure is linked to the loss of several IQ points in general intelligence, one sensible policy to increase the general intelligence of citizens is for the government to pursue to total elimination of lead in the environment. Therefore a complete ban of lead compounds in both industrial and consumer products, should be the first step in increase average intelligence.

However, preventing a reduction of general intelligence is only one leg of a policy increasing it.  Whereas lead exposure has a negative impact on neural development, recent studies show that choline has a positive effect of cognitive ability. A short summary of some scientific findings:

  • one study shows that children of mothers who had a daily consumption of 930 mg choline during pregnancy, had a better cognitive performance than those whose mother had just a daily intake of 480 mg [3];
  • post-natal choline consumption has a positive effect on cognitive ability [4].

Currently the recommended daily intake of choline is 450 mg (US) or 480 mg (EU) a day for pregnant women, this should be increased to 930 mg a day. Also the government should impose a minimum choline in baby formula to ensure that infants get enough choline and strictly enforce this requirement [5].

Government policy should include a few measures. First of all, a broad campaign should be set up aimed at informing the public, and (aspirant) pregnant women in particular, of the importance of choline. Further the government could subsidize choline rich food. Also the use of genetic engineering to increase the choline content of popular foods should be considered.

Of course, these are not the only substances that affect the development of the human brain – alcohol, for instance, is a well-known chemical with detrimental effects of fetal neural development. Hence the government ought to fund scientific inquiry to identify all substances that affect neural development, either positively or negatively and establish a policy based on these studies.

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2789851/

[2] http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0050112

[3] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180104124300.htm

[4] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130711103239.htm

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choline#Adequate_Intake_instead_of_Recommended_Dietary_Allowance

3 thoughts on “Lead and choline”

  1. I think intelligence can be taught, or at least encouraged. Key is curiosity. A curious mind has more neural connections, and the more connections the better that mind is always going to be.

    1. I partially agree. Scientific studies do show that intelligence in children, can be stimulated the way you describe. Only the effects are not persistent and do not last into adulthood, at least not completely. So we need still to improve the biological base. But this should be part of a broader policy.

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