Friday 29 July 2016

Pregnancy multivitamins 'are a waste of money' (except when they're not)

Science headlines eh? Who would trust them and their sometimes inflated press releases?

I start today with a science headline taken from the BBC website reading: "Pregnancy multivitamins 'are a waste of money'" based on the findings of a review article [1] published in the journal Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin.

In it we are told that complex multi-vitamin and mineral supplements are 'unlikely to be needed and are an unnecessary expense' during the nine months that made us. Further that certain vitamins are not indicated for supplementation during pregnancy including that contributory to excess vitamin A. All pregnant women have to do, we are told is "to have a healthy, varied diet including fresh fruit and vegetables" and avoid the old phrase 'eating for two'. What could be simpler?

The irony behind such findings and those BBC and other media headlines is that although one needs to be careful about one's vitamin and mineral intake (treat them as what they are, medicines) there is a long tradition of vitamin supplementation being indicated when it comes to that special time called pregnancy. Indeed, and I quote from the BBC article: "pregnant women should make sure they take folic acid and vitamin D, as well as eating a well-balanced diet, as per NHS guidelines, they add."

So let me get this straight: don't take a multi-vitamin supplement but makes sure that you take a (multi) supplement containing folic acid and vitamin D? You can perhaps see how confusing such headlines are and how grandiose ideas that every woman pre-conceptual and during pregnancy is feasting down on 5-a-day (or even 8-a-day if you actually believe it will make you happier!) are not necessarily based in reality. We would all love to think that important health messages about maternal fruit and vegetable consumption during pregnancy for example, are being heard loud and clear but the reality is that they aren't for everyone. The reality is that people are using vitamin and mineral supplements to supplement their dietary needs for whatever reasons and headlines further confusing the population about such supplementation being a 'waste of money' is only likely to put more people off using them without perhaps giving greater thought about the ways and means to help people alter their diet accordingly. The net result: more pregnant women potentially becoming deficient in certain core nutrients during pregnancy and more potential effects/risks for her and her offspring.

I do have a bee in my bonnet about this issue because time after time the research evidence points to how important pregnancy nutrition is for a variety of maternal and offspring outcomes [2]. Outside of folic acid and vitamin D, various other nutrients are also pretty important during pregnancy (i.e. iodine - 'good for baby, good for the economy') and the unfortunate reality is that most people can't or don't get enough of them from their diet alone. The late David Barker was a pioneer in the area of foetal programming including that related to pregnancy nutrition; one can only wonder what he would make of the suggestion that universally, supplementary multivitamin use during pregnancy is a 'waste of money'?

And finally, you want more people to eat fruit and vegetables? Don't focus too much on just price and positioning at the supermarket, focus on home economics (or just cookery!) classes at school [3] for starters and make fruit and vegetables interesting...


[1] Vitamin supplementation in pregnancy. Drug & Therapeutics Bulletin. 2016. July 11.

[2] Harding JE. The nutritional basis of the fetal origins of adult disease. Int J Epidemiol. 2001 Feb;30(1):15-23.

[3] McMorrow L. et al. Perceived barriers towards healthy eating and their association with fruit and vegetable consumption. J Public Health (Oxf). 2016 May 24.

---------- Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (2016). Vitamin supplementation in pregnancy Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin DOI: 10.1136/dtb.2016.7.0414

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