By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Choosing prenatal vitamins can be complicated, as the world of supplements is difficult to navigate.
My criteria for selecting the best prenatal vitamins is as follows:
- Nutrient levels – how much of each individual vitamin and mineral is in a daily dose?
- Absorbability of nutrients – are the vitamins and minerals found in their most absorbable form?
- Form of folate – folic acid or methylated folate? This is essential if you carry a defect in the MTHFR gene.
- Fillers and other additives. It’s amazing what you find when you read the fine print!
In order to compare all of these factors, I have put all of the information in a detailed comparison chart, comparing seven brands of prenatal vitamins: Centrum – Materna, Jamieson – Prenatal, Duchesnay – PregVit, Pure Encapsulations – Prenatal Nutrients, Douglas labs – Prenatal, Thorne – Basic Prenatal and NFH – Prenatal SAP. You can see this data here.
In a careful comparison between seven prenatal vitamins, I found that there is an enormous difference in the amount of basic nutrients, with the biggest discrepancy in B-vitamin levels. For example, vitamin B-5 levels range from 5 mg per day in PregVit to 100 mg per day in NFH’s Prenatal SAP. Overall, the professional lines (Pure Encapsulations, Douglas labs, Thorne Research and NFH) contained significantly higher levels of essential nutrients.
Absorbability of Nutrients:
Most vitamins and minerals can be found in various forms in supplements, with ranges in absorbability. Certain forms of nutrients are simply less expensive, and hence cheaper to add to a multivitamin. Some examples include:
- Calcium carbonate vs. calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate is found in most pharmacy prenatal vitamins (Materna, Pregvite and Jamieson), and this form of calcium is alkaline and requires significant stomach acid to digest and absorb. Calcium citrate is found in all of the naturopathic lines, as it is more easily broken down and absorbed.
- Oxide forms of minerals vs. citrate forms (magnesium, zinc, copper). The oxide form of nutrients The oxide versions of minerals have lower absorption, and can be irritating to the digestive tract, while the citrate forms have much better absorbability. The oxide versions are found again in all of the pharmacy brands of prenatal vitamins.
- Vitamin B12: cyanocobalamin vs. methylcobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is a synthetic form of vitamin B12 that does not exist in nature. When absorbed, it releases a cyanide molecule which is toxic and must be processed by the body. It is added to most multivitamins as it is significantly cheaper than the higher absorbed, more bioavailable form called methylcobalamin. All of the naturopathic lines of prenatal vitamins contain methylcobalamin.
Form of Folate- folic acid vs. methylfolate:
As you may remember from my previous article, up to 65% of women contain a defect in an enzyme called MTHFR which is essential in the absorption of folate. What this means is that ‘folic acid’, found in most prenatal vitamins may not be absorbed well for many women. I highly recommend folate supplements in the ‘methylated’ version which bypasses this step of absorption. Folate in the form of 5-MTHF (5-methyl tetra hydrofolate) is best. Methylated folate is found in Douglas labs, Thorne Research and NFH brands of prenatal vitamins.
A quick note about PregVit 5, which is commonly recommended for women over 35 to prevent neural tube defects. I would highly recommend genetic testing for the MTHFR defect prior to taking a high dose of folic acid in the non-methylated form as excess regular folic acid can be toxic and difficult to process in some cases.
Fillers and Other Additives:
It is shocking to find the fillers and additives found in pharmacy brands of prenatal vitamins. For example Materna contains: BHT, corn starch, FD&C red #40, gelatin, lactose, mineral oil, polysorbate 80, sodium lauryl sulfate, soybean oil, titanium dioxide among others! Note that there are three key allergens here (corn, soy and lactose), and several toxic chemicals! PregVit vitamins are even worse in the fillers, containing ammonium hydroxide, D&C Red #27, FD&C Blue #1, FD&C Blue #2, FD&C Red #40, FD&C Yellow #6, PEG 3350, polyvinyl alcohol, propylene glycol, shellac glaze, sodium lauryl sulfate, talc and titanium dioxide!!
These chemicals and colourings are completely unnecessary in a vitamin, and potentially harmful during pregnancy. The naturopathic lines do not contain any of these chemicals.
I hope that you have found this article informative and interesting. I have meant to put together a helpful resource for choosing prenatal vitamins for a long time, as the choice of a good prenatal vitamin is essential for a healthy and successful pregnancy.
Please share this information widely – it is something that we should be more educated on, in choosing such an important nutritional supplement.