The Best Prenatal Vitamins. What They Should and Shouldn’t Contain.

A leading pharmacist explains why you should be cautious about some of the “best” prenatal vitamins, and offers some tips for avoiding hidden toxins.

If you are pregnant, your primary concern is your baby’s health. You take great care in choosing nutritious food, getting enough exercise and avoiding alcohol and tobacco. But have you thought about taking a close look at the label on your prenatal vitamin? Even with some of the “best” prenatal vitamins, you may be swallowing chemicals, dyes and potential allergens along with the nutrients you and your baby need.

“Approximately 20-30 percent of pregnant women have a vitamin and mineral deficiency, and without supplementation roughly 75 percent of them would be deficient in at least one vitamin,” says Sherry Torkos, pharmacist, fitness instructor and author.

However, when it comes to choosing the best prenatal vitamins, women assume that the ingredients are totally safe. That may not be true. “Many popular brands of prenatal vitamins have several added ingredients such as binders, coatings, colors, disintegrants, emulsifiers, fillers, flavorings, flow agents, humectants, preservatives, sweeteners and thickeners. artificial colors and fillers,” Torkos explains. “Some of these ingredients, such as titanium dioxide, a coloring agent and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)) an additive to preserve color, odor and taste, are associated with adverse health effects and others, such as red dye (FD&C red no. 40), are potential allergens. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a prenatal vitamin. It simply means that you need to be careful and choose one of  the best prenatal vitamins that don’t include unwanted ingredients.”

 What you may need to add to your diet

Prenatal vitamins are important for the pregnant woman and are not the same as regular multivitamins. Even the Food & Drug Administration now states that pregnancy and breastfeeding are good reasons to consider taking a vitamin supplement. Torkos agrees, explaining that prenatal vitamins contain higher amounts of certain nutrients a pregnant woman needs to support her growing baby:

  • Folic acid: Needed for the formation of new red blood cells and to prevent neural tube defects (spina bifida).
  • Calcium: Needed to support the baby’s developing bones and teeth. “If your intake of calcium is inadequate, the growing baby can pull from your stores (bones) causing calcium-loss and increase your risk of osteoporosis.”
  • Iron: Needed for red blood cell expansion in you and your baby.

What to avoid in your diet

Torkos warns that women should take extra precautions during pregnancy to avoid ingestion of potentially harmful chemical and toxins, in addition to those that might be somewhat hidden in their prenatal vitamins. These include:

  • Farmed fish: “While omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system, women have to limit their intake of farmed fish because of mercury, dioxins and PCBs. Wild fish still contains these chemicals but in lesser amounts.”
  • Most prescription and OTC drugs: “Many drugs are not tested for safety in pregnancy, and some are known teratogens (cause birth defects).
  • Some herbal supplements and “all-natural” remedies: “There are a few herbs that can be dangerous during pregnancy including black cohosh, dong quai, feverfew and licorice.”

Torkos says the best strategy for all pregnant women is to read ingredient labels thoroughly. “When the health of your baby is at stake, it’s not enough to assume that a product is healthful. There are some great prenatal vitamin brands that deliver all of the important nutrients without the unnecessary additives. Taking the extra time to review ALL of the ingredients in your prenatal vitamin makes a lot of sense for both you and your baby.”