Multivitamins for expectant mothers are ‘unnecessary expense’

12 Jul 2016

New research into the effectiveness of multivitamins and mineral supplements aimed at expectant mothers has revealed that, in almost all cases, they’re completely unnecessary.

While expectant mothers, quite rightly, often spend a lot of time thinking about what goes into their body for the sake of their unborn child, it seems that many are being misled by pharmaceutical companies when it comes to multivitamins and other supplements.

Warnings about how deficiencies in key nutrients can potentially lead to birth defects has led to many mothers taking significant quantities of supplements to ensure their child comes into the world healthy.

Future Human

Folic acid and vitamin D recommended

Now, a new paper published in the journal Drug and Therapeutics Bulletinhas found that typical supplements contain more than 20 vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, D, E, K, folic acid, iodine, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and selenium, at a cost of around £15 (€18) per month.

The researchers analysed the effectiveness of each of these vitamins and minerals, with folic acid proving the most essential, with the UK recommendation (where the research was conducted) of 400ug of folic acid daily from before until 12 weeks into the pregnancy.

Vitamin D was also shown to be of some importance to the healthy development of a child, but at a smaller scale, with a recommendation of just 10ug daily throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Skewed marketing

After that, however, the team said there is no clinical evidence of benefit to the mother or the unborn child of taking a lot of supplements, provided they have a healthy diet in general, and, rather worryingly, high doses of vitamin A could actually have a detrimental effect on their health.

So, on what evidence are pharmaceutical companies basing their claims of the importance of taking multivitamins?

According to the researchers, the studies used to back up such claims come from studies carried out in low-income countries where malnourishment is likely to occur compared with other higher-income countries.

Additionally, much of their evidence is also derived from observational studies that could potentially be subject to bias.

“The marketing of such products does not appear to be supported by evidence of improvement in child or maternal outcomes,” the team said, adding that “Pregnant women may be vulnerable to messages about giving their baby the best start in life, regardless of cost.”

Multivitamins image via Niloo/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic