If you subscribe to my other blog, Credible Feast, you’ll know that this week I wrote about something pretty controversial: the safety of prenatal vitamins. I asked “what if?” What if prenatal vitamins aren’t as good for us as we thought they were?
After what I’ve been through with infertility, and what I was willing to do and take during that journey, this post brought up a lot of emotions for me. Reflecting on the teas and supplements and potions I was willing to take to help me make a baby made me think about many of my readers, my sisters, here. I thought about our desperation. Our desire. Our willingness to do or take ANYTHING if it meant bringing home a baby at the end. While I still believe that alternative medicine, for example obtaining care and whole certified herbs from a licensed Chinese Medicine doctor, can be helpful in one’s trying to conceive journey, this week’s post is about something that’s not so alternative: prenatal vitamins. It’s generally accepted that they’re safe, even beneficial, but what if they’re really not? What if they’re part of the reason that the western world is just getting sicker and sicker?
In my recent post, I present data about how the supplement industry has grown right alongside the rising rates of autism, diabetes, and allergies. And about potential links between gene and brain changes to too much folic acid, and even prenatal vitamins. Science is only beginning to understand how supplementation and nutrition affect development, and the research is startling! I also talk about how easy it is to get all of the folic acid you need from food. Check it out here.
I will be very honest here. I am not one who takes multi vitamins on a daily dose except when pregnant. I think pre natals have been around since a long time, my mom was on them when she was pregnant wth me. They do help especially in the 1st trimester when you are so nauseous that the only thing you can eat is saltines.
We shouldnt be blaming vitamins, rather what we consume as food. if the western worldtried to get back to eating healthier meals cooked at home rather than surviving on takeouts and comfort food, they wouldnt suffer so much. The average american consumes no vegetables, survives on coffee, soda and donuts and acres of pizza. Ask any average american to count the vegetables and he will be done in 1 hand. There lies the problem, so the pharma companies jumped in promoting vitamins.
I too took prenatal vitamins. And for the most part I agree with you – the Western diet is killing us! And I also agree that when you’re as sick as I was, prenatal vitamins MIGHT fill the gaps in a poor diet short-term. I think the problem is that in addition to the Western diet, people here think that they’ll solve all their problems if they just dose themselves on vitamins. As for prenatals and folic acid, the research I cite in my other blog is pretty intense though. The authors of the study I mention looked at all the available research to date on folic acid and prenatal supplementation, and unfortunately many of the results weren’t good. We only hear about the supposed good things here in America because that sells pills, but the reality is the results are mixed, and sometimes even scary, about what taking concentrated vitamins can do to the body and a developing fetus. Here in the U.S. disease of all kinds is skyrocketing out of control… while the supplement industry continues to grow. Americans are taking more vitamins than ever but clearly we and our kids aren’t getting healthier as a result. Thank you for weighing in! If you have time, check out some of the research I found in my other blog just as food for thought. Luckily, people like you and I are already very aware of the necessity to eat good food 🙂 and not rely on pills from a bottle.
I have been reading your other blog (though I haven’t been commenting there), and I’m inclined to agree with most of it. But I’m torn on this one. My husband was born with a cleft lip, and I’ve worked with children with both cleft palate and spina bifida, so I’m particularly sensitive to the risk of neural tube defects. And, unfortunately, many women in the U.S. don’t have access to fresh, organic produce. And then, of course, there’s me being too lazy to do my own research to know how much folate is really enough to reduce the risk of NTDs (so thank you for being a total nerd about nutrition and doing the research for me! ????). There’s no doubt I could do better when it comes to my own nutrition, but there are so many who don’t even realize how poor their nutrition is because they’re more concerned about simply filling their (and their children’s) bellies to worry about what’s actually in the food they can afford. Which is an issue that feels so huge and complicated and needs to be addressed in the form of revamping agricultural, educational, and minimum wage policies in the U.S.
Gah! Sorry for the side rant! I just feel like so much more needs to be done on this issue and I feel completely helpless and inadequate to tackle any of it! But I do enjoy Credible Feast, and it has certainly made me rethink some of my choices, including whether or not I’d be willing to take a prenatal vitamin if I get to experience another pregnancy. So thank you for sharing your passion for nutrition and real food!
To be honest, I’m still torn too. What if I’m one of the people with MTHFR, but I don’t know it? That’s the concern. But if I or you do have that, to truly benefit from folic acid, it would need to be the specially formulated one. And what if people without that mutation actually are hurt by supplemental folic acid? I’m sure you read all my research… and it’s pretty frightening in my opinion: brain changes in rates, higher rates of insulin resistance, some links to autism. But as I mention, the results are so mixed that it’s hard to know what’s right. I actually found one source that said .25 mcg from food is all you need of folic acid to prevent neural tube defects, and .4 from supplements. I may write a post about that next. Though I did find the research alarming about the NTD floor effect. Based on my analysis as well, fortification seems to have stabilized the incidence of NTD, rather than continue to decline it. Could it be that those who need to be reached have been?
And while I agree that low income families face greater challenges, I do know that everything from the Dollar Store to Walmart carries produce so good food is accessible. What’s lacking in my opinion is education. What if we gave women wishing to conceive counseling about food first, supplements second? If every woman just paid a little more attention could we reduce NTDs and other diseases more dramatically? I’m really not sure. But I think because the supplement companies are almost as large as the Pharma ones, and so have a financial stake in reporting on and promoting use of their products, it’s up to us to keep the conversation going about what they’re not talking about: the not so good side of their products. So thank you for weighing it! I think I may keep prenatals around for days I don’t well or if I develop hyperemesis, but again I’m not sure. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it! In the meantime, since we are trying now, I’m just trying to eat a boat load of greens (which really is not as easy as I make it sound!).
I was pregnant in my fourth year of medical school–twice. The first ended in miscarriage at four months, due to exposure to anesthesia gases from a faulty machine at a dangerous hospital. During the second I refused to take ANYTHING that I did not grow in my own garden or buy from our local organic butcher. I can honestly say that I never felt better in my life. My little boy, who is now thirty and finishing his Ph.D. in a field of science that I cannot even pronounce, let alone understand, is a very high functioning autistic just like his parents (both of us). He had a rough time coming up, but now that he’s an adult he’s doing fine, thank God. All of this to say that although there is solid evidence that folic acid supplementation does prevent spina bifida, I would much rather eat plenty of folate-rich kale and spinach than try to swallow horse pills that contain far, far too much iron (put a little vinegar or lemon juice on your kale to make the iron bioavailable), and who knows what else they put in those damn things. Just my two shekels.
Laura! Thanks for this comment. There is solid evidence to a degree, but the rate of decline has stabilized and doesn’t continue to go down, according to my research. Which leads some of the researchers I’ve found to conclude that perhaps folic acid supplementation for all may not be the best way. Now that I’m pregnant again and sick as hell, I worry a little bit. I’m not taking anything. Am I harming my baby as a result? I like to think, however, that the healthy eating I did immediately proceeding pregnancy and the avocados I’m eating now are all the folic acid I need for now. I hope so at least! Sadly, I can’t stomach kale and spinach right now, but thank God for beans.
I’d go with the pill, if you can manage it. Are you taking ginger? Ginger root has been shown to be as effective as Compazine in treating the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, and is totally safe. You can make ginger tea by boiling ginger root in water, as strong as you can stand it. If it’s too strong dilute it. Add sugar to taste. If you have an Oriental store nearby, they will have dried ginger tea, very convenient. Recommended to take it hot or warm, never cold as this shocks the stomach and makes mucus. Crystallized ginger is also good. Gin-gins candy is OK, not first choice but if that’s what your stomach can handle, fine. I found that keeping some Saltine crackers by the bed and eating a couple while still lying down also helps. Hope you feel better soon! How far along are you?
I’m 9 weeks today. I actually drank some ginger tea today and it did seem to help! I was sick with my daughter until about 16 weeks, ugh.
Oh brother, that preggers sick is hard to bear, especially if you have other little ones to care for and can’t lay up in the bed all day. Yup, that ginger tea is the bee’s knees. When I was doing midwife duty, we used to say that husbands were strictly for taking care of the other ones and making sure their wives had a full mug of ginger tea at all times.