Prenatal vitamins and supplements seem to be a main food group in many modern cultures, but are they really necessary?
Nourishment is certainly an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and that most definitely includes pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins, mostly for folic acid, are commonly recommended to all women of childbearing age with the idea to help prevent neural tube defects. Unfortunately, we are seeing increases in conditions such as autism and other brain disorders as well as cancer all related to folic acid (and also exacerbated from ultrasounds, medications, birth methods, and vaccines). Folic acid isn't the same thing as naturally occurring folate which it is trying to mimic. The fact that organizations trying to promote excessive intake of Folic Acid, such as the March of Dimes, doesn't recognize the differences between the two is a bit alarming.
Folate is a type of B vitamin naturally occurring in foods such as dark leafy and cruciferous greens, beans, lentils, and other fruits and vegetables. Folate is very necessary (as all real nutrients are) for quality of health in mom and baby. The way folate is metabolized in the body, as well as promoting detoxification through the liver, is different than folic acid for many people, especially in high amounts. What is even more important to consider not only with folic acid, but many other supplements as well, is the excessive processed foods with most of these supplements already added.
Foods commonly containing synthetic vitamins:
- Enriched breads, crackers and similar
- Flour (most flour products and bagged flour is "enriched")
- Packaged processed foods (yes, even from the "health food" section)
- Prenatal vitamins (yes, even from "health food" stores.... yes, even many that are "whole foods" are not actually whole foods)
Basically, read the ingredients - all of them. If it says enriched, it has synthetic vitamins which do not work the same as the natural nutrients they're trying to mimic, and some harmful as with folic acid. If it says folic acid is an ingredient, then assume it is the synthetic form of folic acid and not naturally occurring folate. While making your own food at home is often a sure way of knowing what you're putting into your food (as long as you pay attention to the grain you mill or the flour you buy), there are many options available in most grocery stores today that offer wholesome, albeit processed, fast options for busy lives.
So, let's consider first, how do you feel? Honestly. Do you go to bed at a decent hour and wake up rejuvenated? Do you need coffee? If you're drinking coffee, you're being depleted of nutrients, such as potassium, even if its just one cup and even if its decaf. Same with black tea. Do you stay hot and sweat a lot? Do you stay cold with frigid fingers? Do you hurt, lose energy fast, get angry? Your mood and physical well being, plus your menstrual cycle (now or prior to conception) are great indicators of full functioning health and balance. Sometimes, a week or two of journaling every detail from food and water intake to movement and sleep patterns is important for getting a good honest picture of what we're experiencing.
Now, are you already receiving supplementation? How much? What do your regular eating habits already include? Are you eating at restaurants that use these products? Next, lets consider if you're using supplements for their intention - a supplementation where things are missing rather than a cheat to eat whatever you want.
Finally, let's consider where you buy your produce (or if produce is a significant part of your lifestyle). I like to focus on Simple Portions - eating a rainbow of colors in seasonal selections that includes sprouted seeds/grains/beans/legumes, whole meats, and wild and herbal foods. Are you eating produce that was picked a week ago and sprayed for color? What about pesticides? Are you growing your own food or foraging in the woods for nutrient-rich wild foods? What type of soil is your food grown in - are they from mono-farms or are the crops rotated well and mixed well with a variety of companion plants? These are important aspects of knowing when supplementing is necessary for you.
You can also choose to receive mineral testing to see exactly which supplements may be necessary for you. Individualized care is key. We can't put blanket prescriptions on everyone just because of their childbearing age status. We can't force enriched foods, like the FDA mandated with flour, when we don't fully understand physical nourishment.
Once you have taken an honest look at your personal food selections, routines, and habits - and received labs if necessary that indicate where you may be missing certain nutrients, then you might consider a quality whole foods supplements. My family uses the Esali THRIVE green smoothie blend as a whole herbal powdered supplementation to daily routine.
Now, you tell me if prenatal vitamins and supplements are necessary for you.