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Grace McCalmon – Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner – SmartyPants Vitamins, Marketing Associate – Online Editorial
If you’re pregnant, thinking about getting pregnant, or even just choosing not to use a form of birth control, chances are your ob-gyn suggested you take a prenatal vitamin. But were our grandmothers taking prenatals? Nope. In fact, taking a prenatal vitamin is a relatively new practice. So where did it come from and why did it start? Do we really need to take one? We did a little historical digging and interviewed a couple experts to find out the answers to these burning questions.

THE FOLIC ACID FIX

Back in the 1960’s1 [GM1] Richard Smithells and Elizabeth Hibbard noticed that birth defects, most notably neural tube defects, could be reduced by supplementing with folic acid. Smithells’ work led to the 1983 MRC Vitamin Study[GM2] 2, which showed that about 80% of neural tube defects could be prevented by taking 4 mg folic acid immediately before pregnancy.
Although we don’t know the exact date prenatal vitamins hit the shelves, they most likely started gaining popularity sometime after 1998. This was when the Food and Drug Administration introduced mandatory folic acid fortification of flour and other grains3 to help prevent neural tube defects.

THE PROBLEM WITH PRENATALS

In addition to folic acid, prenatal vitamins seemed like a great way to ensure pregnant women got all the other key nutrients they needed should things like morning sickness and food aversions get in the way of their diet. Unfortunately some women found swallowing giant horse pills even more off-putting than food.

ENTER, CHEWABLE VITAMINS

Vitamin makers found a solution creating a prenatal vitamin women didn’t have to swallow and was palatable enough to chew. Although early chewables were chalky and had a distinctly “vitamin-y” taste, brands have started making chewable and gummy vitamins that are not only palatable, but downright delicious.

DO WE REALLY NEED TO TAKE A PRENATAL?

“Whether you’re pregnant or not you can’t get everything you need from food” says Dr. Deborah Gordon ,4 and nutrients like folate and iodine, which are difficult to get through diet to begin with, are needed in higher amounts during pregnancy. For this reason, most doctors recommend taking a prenatal vitamin.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A PRENATAL

According to Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, folate is the most important nutrient for pregnant women and both Drs. Minkin and Gordon recommend women look for brands that contain the L-methylfolate form of folate rather than folic acid. This is because in order to use folic acid our bodies must convert it into methylfolate and some people can’t make this conversion.5 Taking a supplement with L-methylfolate ensures both you and your baby get 100% of the folate you need every day. Additionally, both doctors advise taking a prenatal that contains vitamin D3 and Dr. Gordon says to look for one that also has a high-quality fish oil, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, which has been shown to help with morning sickness!6
So even though grandma might be right when she talks about the “good old days”, modern research and science have definitely given us some advantages when it comes to optimizing our health and wellness. If you’re pregnant or thinking about it, you can now head confidently down the vitamin isle knowing exactly what you need.


References

  1. http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/40/5/1154.extract
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1677062
  3. http://www.spinabifidaassociation.org/site/c.knKLINNkEiG/b.5712303/k.3079/Status_of_Folic_Acid_Fortification_in_the_United_States.htm
  4. http://www.drdeborahmd.com/
  5. http://www.archivesofpathology.org/doi/pdf/10.1043/1543-2165%282007%29131%5B872%3AHATAO%5D2.0.CO%3B2
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25052410

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.