Prenatal vitamins

Dear Alice,

Is it safe to be taking prenatal vitamins when you're not pregnant or planning on getting pregnant?

Dear Reader, 

In today's world of advanced medicine, the multivitamin aisle may be an intimidating place. Broadening your knowledge on different types of vitamins can help you make an informed decision when choosing which multivitamin best fits your needs. Prenatal vitamins contain higher amounts of specific nutrients that are vital for both the pregnant person and the developing fetus. While these vitamins are typically considered to be safe for adults in good health, they may not be appropriate for those who aren’t pregnant or don’t plan on becoming pregnant. Here are some additional points to consider: 

  • Prenatal vitamins have increased amounts of iron, as pregnant people need up to 27 milligrams of iron per day. However, this is much higher than the recommended 8 to 18 milligrams per day for those assigned female at birth, depending on age. Iron buildup in the body can cause constipation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and in rare cases, even death. 
  • Calcium during pregnancy can prevent a new pregnant parent from losing their own bone density, as the fetus uses the mineral for bone growth. Prenatal vitamins contain only 200 to 300 milligrams of calcium, as they’re intended to supplement calcium already received in the diet. Healthy people typically need 1000 to 1200 milligrams of calcium. Relying only on prenatal vitamins for your calcium needs isn’t recommended, as it will only raise the risk for osteoporosis and other health complications. 
  • Folic acid is critical in preventing neural tube effects in the developing fetus, such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Prenatal vitamins typically contain about 1000 micrograms of folate or folic acid per day — this is more than double the 400 micrograms per day requirement for healthy people. In relatively rare cases, ingesting too much folic acid can mask symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency and cause a delay in diagnosis and treatment. 

Adapted from Mayo Clinic

Some people use prenatal vitamins for the purpose of promoting thicker hair and stronger nails. However, these claims lack evidence as to whether or not they change the thickness of hair or strength of nails. A multivitamin supplement, in an appropriate formulation for most adults, contains the vitamins and minerals that may be beneficial for healthy hair. Moreover, a balanced diet containing adequate protein and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is best for vibrant and healthy hair. 

Above all, it's good to remember that different types of vitamins are more suitable than others based on that individual’s health needs. Speaking with your health care provider may be helpful in gauging which vitamin supplement is best for your current lifestyle. Kudos to you for seeking more information to ‘supplement’ your knowledge of multivitamins! 

Last updated Apr 02, 2021
Originally published Jan 07, 2011

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