Sunday, December 7, 2008

Why Go Beyond Prenatals?

The past few months have not been good for the supplement industry. Since April, three research articles and one review have been published that failed to prove a beneficial effect of certain vitamin and mineral supplements:

This seven-year study examined cancer rates in women who took high doses of vitamins B6, B12, and Folic Acid. The study showed that there were no difference in cancer rates, breast cancer rates, or death from cancer in women who took the vitamin supplements.

A Cochrane Database review last spring found that high doses of supplements of beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E did not prolong life or affect chronic disease. In fact, they may actually shorten life. Furthermore, vitamin C and selenium supplements had no effect on health status.

Two more studies indicate that vitamin E, vitamin C, and selenium do not offer cancer protection in men and may increase cancer and diabetes risk.

In contrast to these studies, a study last year indicated that women who got more calcium and vitamin d from foods had a one-third reduced risk of developing premenopausal breast cancer.

What do we know about vitamins?

1. The best source of vitamins exists in foods.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, dairy and animal foods contain a plethora of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phyto-nutrients, all working together in synergistic ways that promote health.

The study authors say it best:
Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, the senior author of the B-vitamin study comments on her study in a NYT article: “This doesn’t preclude an important benefit from diets that are high in B vitamins and folates, and folate intake throughout pregnancy is very important.”

Howard D. Sesso, the lead author of the study examining Vitamins E and C similarly comments in a NYT article: ''At the end of the day this serves as a reminder that we should get back to basics: keeping your body weight in check, being physically active, not smoking and following a good diet.''

2. We need vitamins throughout our entire life.
Vitamins are needed from the second an embryo is formed until a person dies. Some of the researchers suggest that vitamin supplements may have proved futile because they were taken too late in life. It is foolish to assume that vitamins can counteract years of poor diet, insufficient activity levels, and faulty genes.

3. Vitamins are still important
It is probably wise to take a multi-vitamin on most days, and absolutely necessary during pregnancy (for the folic acid, iron, vitamin D, and others). I cannot trust myself or any of you to eat a perfectly healthy diet. If that was our entire focus in life, then maybe we could do it. But other life events get in the way. However, no one should rely on any vitamin regimen to replace a healthy diet. They are simply used to fill in the cracks or if a certain food group is not consumed. Some examples: calcium supplements for women who do not eat enough dairy; fish supplements who women who do not eat enough fish; vitamin D supplements in the winter months.

Why go Beyond Prenatals?
These research studies show that good health starts early in life and requires eating healthy foods. The way to achieve this is to eat healthy foods before and during pregnancy and feed your children well.
And that is what going Beyond Prenatals is all about:
Going beyond prenatal vitamins to create a healthy pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and childhood.

Interested in reading more? Check out these 2 NYT Blog posts here and here.


  1. I was going to ask you what you thought about prenatals, but this post made it much clearer.

    In general, in choosing a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement, I have chosen one that has less than 100% RDA per pill. Given that I still eat food, it seems unnecessary and a waste to consume 100% RDA.

  2. Hi Renata,
    Yes, I would agree that we don't need 100% RDA for all nutrients since we eat food. Plus, we have some early evidence that too much of certain nutrients from supplements can be harmful (more on that to come). The only exception is Vitamin D. The requirements are likely too low, so find a supplement with 100% RDA or take an additional supplement during the indoor months.

  3. Thanks for stopping by my blog and your comments! Believe me, I never bought a box of Bisquick until this year...the things we do to keep our kids safe and ourselves sane! I guess the fact that my 6 year old is 33 pounds and I take every opportunity to chub her up doesn't help either! Speaking of which, in your RD life, have you ever come across something like a "dairy-free version of Pediasure", i.e. a high calorie beverage for allergic kids. Most kids switch to whole milk at a year, MPA kids have to change to soymilk which is low in fat and calories...add that to a restricted diet and these kids shrink. One of my kids is still on soy formula at 18 months, but I was thinking of trying to 'beef up" Silk soymilk with either some scoops of soy formula or Better Than Milk soy powder. Any ideas on how to get to 30kcals/oz, not overdo the vitamins, and still taste good?