While stress is widely known to increase health risk such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, new research suggest what your mother may or may have not eaten during pregnancy can affect the way you respond to stress today.

According to experts at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, research demonstrates if women increase their intake of choline above the general physician recommendation, it may help improve how a child reacts to stressful events. These improvements are called epigenetic changes that eventually will lead to a reduction in cortisol levels. Epigenetic changes can alter how the gene performs, without altering the gene itself. Reducing the cortisol levels is essential because it is linked to a slew of problems from mental health to cardiovascular disorders.

"We hope that our data will inform the development of choline intake recommendations for pregnant women that ensure optimal fetal development and reduce the risk of stress-related diseases throughout the life of the child," said Marie A. Caudill, PhD, a researcher involved in the work from the Division of Nutritional Sciences and Genomics at Cornell University.

Along with her research team, Caudill conducted a 12-week study that comprised of pregnant woman in their third trimester. Some were instructed to consume a choline control diet, where they were given 480 milligrams of choline per day while, others were instructed to take 980 milligrams of choline.

Maternal blood, cord blood and placenta tissue were collected to measure the blood levels of cortisol, the expression levels of genes that are responsible for regulating cortisol and the number of methyl groups attached to the DNA cortisol regulating genes. Results showed mothers who consumed higher levels of choline displayed a decreased level of cortisol.

"Depending on the relationship, one's mother can either produce stress or relieve it," said Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "This report shows that her effect on stress begins even before birth. The importance of choline cannot be overstated as we continue to unravel the role it plays in human health and development."

Some foods rich in choline include: beef, eggs, chicken, turkey, shrimp and collard greens.

This study will be published in the August issue of The FASEB Journal.