Most pregnant women will take a multivitamin throughout their pregnancy but a recent news article has cast doubt on whether vitamins are actually needed during pregnancy, so what is the deal should pregnant women continue taking their vitamins or are they just an expensive waste of time.
Well lets look at the research in question, the review carried out by the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, concludes that ‘the marketing of targeted multi vitamins and minerals to pregnant women does not appear to be supported by evidence in child or maternal outcomes’. They argue that much of the evidence supporting supplementation during pregnancy comes from low income countries where women are more likely to be malnourished than those in the UK and argue that there is no evidence that women should take any additional supplements above the nationally advised folic acid and Vitamin D.
I have to admit as a Registered Nutritional Therapist the advice to ditch your vitamins during pregnancy does concern me. We may well live in a affluent nation but that affluence doesn’t always translate to what we eat. We know that the typical Western diet supplies less than adequate amounts of many key vitamins and minerals. Less than 30 percent of women eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day and only 11 per cent eat oily fish. When you are pregnant every calorie you eat needs to be nutrient dense to nourish you and the baby. Are we eating optimal amounts of vitamins and minerals to feed and nourish our unborn children to optimal levels, I’m not convinced.
And look at the evidence which suggests supplementation is beneficial, earlier this year Dr Louis from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development also looked at prenatal vitamins during pregnancy and concluded that a multivitamin daily for the duration of pregnancy may well reduce the loss of a baby by 55 percent. That’s a pretty big percentage.
We also know that essential fats such as Omega 3 are essential for brain development, they literally build the babies brain so for the 89 percent of women who aren’t consuming oily fish where are they getting the optimal amounts of these essential fats from. An interesting study actually found that the level of omega 3 found in the umbilical cord at birth can predict the speed of a child’s thinking at age 8. With deficiencies of essential fatty acids linked to learning difficulties, asthma, eczema and depression in children, we really need to ensure this fat is optimal from the start.
So where that does that leave pregnant women, well I would say lets take a common sense approach, a good quality pregnancy specific multivitamin and mineral provides a good platform for both mum and baby, being pregnant uses up a lot of energy and nutrients. A multivitamin and mineral and I would argue a good quality essential fatty acid do provide a good baseline. There is no second chance here to get it right and even if you do manage to eat 5-7 portions of organic fruit and vegetables daily, 3-5 portions of oily fish per week, nuts and seeds daily, good quality protein and so on there is no guarantee to the amount of vitamins and minerals you will be getting It can be difficult to fully measure the vitamin and mineral content of our food, modern farming methods have led to depletions in minerals such as iron and magnesium, so even with the best will intended our food may not be as nutritious as we think add to that that many women have may not have optimum digestion and absorption then relying on food alone during such a critical time may not be enough. Its a complicated area and one where we should always err on the side of caution. A good nutrient dense diet is key but should you flush those multivitamins away, well I certainly wouldn’t.
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