Reviewed By: Casey Seiden MS, RD, CDN, DCES
It can feel overwhelming to walk down the supplements aisle at the pharmacy, especially since taking supplements seems like a regular part of keeping yourself healthy. The reality, though, is that it can be helpful to take a second look at supplements and their benefits and risks. There’s a lot of misinformation out there so supplements aren’t always what they seem, especially where marketing is involved. It’s best to take a professional recommendation from your dietitian in order to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need. In the meantime, here’s what to know about supplements and how they can help.
If you’re not pregnant, you consume a well-balanced diet, and you haven’t tested for any vitamin or mineral deficiencies, then it’s not likely that you need to take supplements. However, supplementation in pregnancy is a whole other ballgame! Pregnant women have increased nutrient needs due to the demand of the developing baby, and if you’re carrying twins or triplets your needs will increase even further. A “food first” approach is preferable, but obtaining all the vitamins and minerals through food might prove challenging during pregnancy, especially if you’re battling aversions or nausea, so a supplement is a good back up.
It’s recommended to start supplementing with a prenatal vitamin at least 3 months prior to trying to become pregnant, and then continue supplementing throughout your pregnancy and even into your postpartum stage. There are a few hundred prenatal vitamins on the market, so it’s wise to discuss your options with a registered dietitian. Aside from a prenatal vitamin, every woman’s needs are unique and can be impacted by factors like your nutrient stores, absorption, underlying diseases, and medications. So, to see if you might need additional supplements, you should check with your doctor or dietitian.
The difference is fairly clear— a vitamin supplement contains either a mixture or single vitamin, such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, or vitamin C, whereas a mineral supplement is something like calcium, magnesium, or iron. Most prenatal vitamins are actually supplements that contain a mixture of vitamins and minerals, which more closely mimics real food that includes both.
Supplements, when taken in appropriate doses, can have a lot of benefits. For example, we know that supplementing with folic acid during pregnancy helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects, and taking additional iron can help prevent and treat anemia. But, supplements are not meant to be a “cure all.” You should be supplementing a healthy diet with ample energy and fat to help you actually absorb the vitamins and minerals. Sometimes, supplements consumed in excess will just be eliminated through your urine if you already have ample stores, meaning it can be more worthwhile and cost effective to get a recommendation from your dietitian for which supplements will actually help.
When choosing a supplement, look to see that it’s third-party tested by either NSF International or USP (U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention), which are independent agencies that evaluate supplements’ ingredients, purity, and safety. It’s also important to evaluate if the supplement is even effective; the herbal supplement industry specifically warrants a discussion with your dietitian. You’ll also want to consult with your dietitian to choose a supplement regimen that contains everything you need and in the right doses.
Supplements can do a lot for your health and helping you enjoy a successful pregnancy, but it’s important to partner with a registered dietitian to make sure you’re taking the right steps. To meet with our award-winning team, we invite you to contact our New York City office by calling or filling out our online form.
Maternal Fetal Medicine blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!