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Multivitamins in pregnancy ‘should be avoided’

Women advised to take folic acid and Vitamin D, and eat a balanced diet

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Pregnancy multivitamins do not improve the health of either mother or baby, and should be avoided, according to new research* in the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin. Researchers warn that supplements containing vitamin A can be dangerous as too much can harm the foetus.

But they advise pregnant women to take folic acid and vitamin D, as well as eating a well-balanced diet, as per NHS guidelines. The researchers said folic acid had the strongest evidence to support its use - taking 400 micrograms a day can protect against neural tube defects in the developing baby and 10 micrograms of Vitamin D a day is recommended for healthy bones in the mother and baby. Some women can get these free on the Healthy Start scheme.

The researchers said pregnant women might feel coerced into buying expensive multivitamins in order to give their baby the best start in life.

"Many nutritional supplements containing vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients are heavily marketed to women for all stages of pregnancy. However, much of the evidence for vitamin supplementation in pregnancy comes from studies carried out in low-income countries, where women are more likely to be undernourished or malnourished than within the UK population," they said.

The Health Food Manufacturers' Association, which represents food supplements suppliers and makers, insists that a substantial proportion of women of child-bearing age are not getting enough nutrients from diet alone. The industry-funded Health Supplements Information Service said food supplements could help plug dietary gaps.

Janet Fyle, from the Royal College of Midwives, told the BBC: "We would encourage women who are pregnant or are thinking of becoming pregnant to have a healthy, varied diet including fresh fruit and vegetables, alongside taking folic acid supplements.

"We would also stress that there is no need for pregnant women to 'eat for two'. This is a myth, and all that is required is a normal balanced amount of food."

* Vitamin supplementation in pregnancy. DTB, published online first: 11 July 2016. DOI: 10.1136/dtb.2016.7.0414

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