My Search for the Perfect Prenatal Vitamin

Good evening and happy Wednesday =D I wrote this back when I was pregnant with Paulie and wanted to share! I hope this helps pregnant mama’s and those trying to become pregnant =)

As a new mom-to-be, I was surprised to discover that the majority of commercially available prenatal vitamins contain ingredients that are considered toxic to humans. For this post, I am focusing on two specific types of toxins: food additives and mercury. FD&C Red #3, Blue #1, Green #3, Yellow #5, and Mercury are just some of the widely used ingredients in both prescription and over the counter prenatal vitamins. As a result of this, I considered discontinuing taking prenatal vitamins completely, but it quickly became apparent that doing so would render me incapable of adequately monitoring my essential nutrient intake solely through careful dieting. While it is incredibly important that pregnant women take prenatal vitamins, it is also essential that we stay informed about the ingredients in our dietary supplements. I am very passionate about early childhood development, and I truly believe that it is possible that toxins found within food and supplements could impact a child’s development. There are two main questions that I ask myself before taking a prenatal vitamin.

1. Does the pill contain any food additives?

Researchers have been publishing studies concluding that food additives may be contributing to ADHD in children since the early 1990’s. After conducting a study on two groups of children, Bateman (2004) concluded “that the effect of food additives on behavior occurs independently of pre-existing hyperactive behavior.” The behaviors of both groups of children (those who were diagnosed with ADHD and those who did not exhibit characteristics of any behavioral disorder) significantly changed after the additives were removed from their diet. According to Tuormaa (1994), the reason for these “subtle or exaggerated behavioral changes” is most likely due to the impact that food additives have on neurotransmitter release (which is essential for brain function). Weiss (2012) noted this response made by the FDA Food Advisory Committee in 2011: “For certain susceptible children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and other problem behaviors, the data suggests that their condition may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives.”

Color additives are a type of food additive that is found in many food items (often found in foods targeted towards children), and is also found in most prenatal vitamins. With all of the evidence linking food additives to ADHD in children, it is alarming that I have not been able to find studies focusing on the impact (or lack of) that color additives have on pregnancy and the developing fetus. I have noticed that many times, the color additive is not listed as an ingredient on the brand’s box; and it was not until I called each company to talk to a representative that I discovered that I was taking a vitamin that contained color additives.

2. Where is the DHA extracted from?

DHA is an Omega 3 fatty acid that is essential to a baby’s brain development. Many vitamins extract DHA from fish, which would be acceptable if they extracted DHA from fish that do not contain high levels of mercury.  Mercury is highly toxic and could negatively impact the development of a fetus. Oken (2008) concluded that children born to women who consumed fish with high levels of Mercury during pregnancy had “lower developmental test scores at age 3 years.”

When I first started searching for prenatal vitamins that contain DHA, I noticed that many brands would extract DHA from sources other than fish. However, the box often times does not indicate the entire source of where they extract the DHA from. For example, CitraNatal Harmony says on the box that 40% of the DHA is extracted from a plant. What about the other 60%? When I spoke to a representative, I discovered that the other 60% is from a synthetic DHA. Prenate says that they extract 100% of their DHA from fish, but what kind of fish? When I spoke to a representative, he was unsure of what type of fish it was extracted from. With the possibility that mercury will impact a developing fetus, my goal has been to find a vitamin with DHA that is extracted from fish with low mercury levels or solely from plants.

It is a major issue that brands are regularly offering misleading information and not thoroughly labeling the ingredients found within their products. Since boxes may fail to provide accurate information about the ingredients, I recommend to always call and ask a representative these two very important questions so that women are aware of what they are consuming. 

References

Bateman B., Warner J O., Hutchinson E., Dean T., Rowlandson P., Gant C., Grundy J., Fitzgerald C., Stevenson J. (2004). The effects of a double blind, placebo controlled, artificial food colourings and benzoate preservative challenge on hyperactivity in a general population sample of preschool children. Retrieved from http://adc.bmj.com/content/89/6/506.full.pdf+html

Tuormaa T. (2004). The Adverse Effects of Food Additives on Health: A Review of the Literature with Special Emphasis on Childhood Hyperactivity. Retrieved from http://www.natural-knowhow.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Additives-and-child-hyperactivity-article.pdf

Weiss B. (2012). Synthetic Food Colors and Neurobehavioral Hazards: The View from Environmental Health Research. Retrieved from http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernard_Weiss/publication/51650459_Synthetic_food_colors_and_neurobehavioral_hazards_the_view_from_environmental_health_research/links/0912f50c000252a10c000000.pdf

Oken E., Radesky J., Wright R., Bellinger D., Amarasiriwardena C., Kleinman K., Hu H., Gillman M. (2008). Maternal Fish Intake during Pregnancy, Blood Mercury Levels, and Child Cognition at Age 3 Years in a US Cohort. Retrieved from http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/167/10/1171.full.pdf+html

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