The media has created a stir this week by picking up an article in the Drug and therapeutic Bulletin, part of the British Medical Journal publishing group, suggesting that ‘Pregnancy multi-vitamins are a waste of money’. So is there some truth in this or are they scare-mongering?
"Pregnancy multivitamins are a waste of money because most mothers-to-be do not need them, according to researchers," BBC News reports.
This kind of headline can be seriously misleading to people, especially at a time in their life when they are wanting to do the best for their baby.
The report found that only the use of vitamin D and folic acid in pregnancy was supported by the evidence. Whereas expensive multivitamin supplements (often costing around £15 for a month's dose) that combine a wide range of vitamins and supplements, were assessed as being "unlikely to be needed and are an unnecessary expense".
It must be made clear that Vitamin D and folic acid must be supplemented before pregnancy, during pregnancy and throughout pregnancy. A multi-vitamin may not be required and indeed, could be a waste of money, if you have a very healthy, balanced diet.
The diet is always the preferred method of ensuring proper nutrition. So stick to the basics and get your vitamin A from carrots, your vitamin C from citrus fruits, and your vitamin E from almonds.
Your goal should be to get all of your vitamins and minerals from real, whole foods. But this is a real challenge in our modern lives with quantities of nutrients in foods, even fresh home-grown foods is not what it used to be
So, in many circumstances like pregnancy or if you have a busy life, in which it isn’t always possible to eat more than your 5 a-day, the right supplement can be beneficial and even life changing. For example:
- An older person may have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12.
- Someone who lives in the UK may have little exposure to sunlight and cannot produce enough vitamin D.
- A pregnant woman will have higher needs of myriad vitamins than someone who's not pregnant.
These are all instances and there are many more in which supplementing the diet is encouraged. I recognise that everybody’s metabolic pathway is different, so what might work for one person may not work for another.
There's something to be said for the synergistic effect of nutrients from foods versus from a synthetic form. In other words, if you rely on a pill for your vitamin A intake, you’re missing out on all of the other vitamins, minerals, and fibre that the vitamin A-containing food naturally confers.
Let’s take kale, one of everyone’s latest favourite superfoods for instance. Kale is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K and fibre. If you were to isolate and concentrate just one of the vitamins it provides, you would be missing out on all the rest!
Furthermore, when you take an over-the-counter supplement you always run the risk of toxicity. Too much of any vitamin or mineral can have detrimental effects, especially those that are fat-soluble.
This is because we store fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K, in our livers, so concentrations can build up. Conversely, it's very difficult to overdose on vitamins coming from food.
As long as you're able to maintain a diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, taking a supplement in addition is up to you. There's something to be said for the synergistic effect of nutrients from wholefoods.
There is one wholefood supplement that I recommend, which I take daily, which enables you to flood your body with the phytonutrients of 30 fruit and vegetables every day, so you do get the full synergistic effect of the whole fruit and vegetable, not an isolated vitamin. If you’re thinking of adding anything to your diet or changing what you do already, this is worth adding for everyone, adults and children and it is absolutely safe for pregnant ladies.