How can you be better informed on the quality of your prenatal supplement? As a childbirth educator, doula, and crunchy mom I've learned a lot about supplements. But I also interviewed Vickie Sorensen, Master Herbalist and owner of Nature Works. Combining our knowledge we've created this post to help you navigate the ingredients panel and expose a few things you probably didn't know you didn't know about multi-vitamins! I want to teach you exactly what to look for and what to avoid when purchasing your prenatal multi-vitamin, because your health and the health of your baby both matter. And, hey, your financial investment counts for something, too.
A FEW THINGS TO KNOW
Because herbal supplements are fast becoming a big money making industry, though significantly less substantial than pharmaceuticals, there are lots of products on the market today. They can be full of fillers, irradiated plants, potential allergens, or the entirely wrong part of the plant (say the leaf, instead of the root where the actual medicinal properties are found) that will do little to no good for your health. It is very important that you read carefully the list of ingredients for any supplement or product, do your own research, and discuss its use with your healthcare provider. There has to be some self-education on the customer’s part, otherwise you simply won’t know what you’re buying. Most spices, herbs, and multi-vitamins sold at local grocery stores, for example, have undergone the process of ionized radiation in order to increase shelf life and kill any possible bacteria existing on the herb or spice—which at the same time kills the healing agents.
The quality of a supplement is the most important factor for determining the efficacy of the product. Imported herbal products do not undergo the same scrutiny of FDA standards that American-made products undergo. The cost can sometimes clue you in, as well; If you are buying a bottle of frankincense essential oil, for example, for ten bucks off the shelf at your local Wal-Mart, it’s likely highly diluted, contains fillers, or is of low-grade distillation quality.
The price isn’t always the best indicator, though. You can still shell out a lot of money for a poor quality product. Products that are purchased through multi-level marketing (MLM) companies are often a bit pricier than an equally reputable product bought elsewhere because of their heavy overhead costs, and you’re still not guaranteed quality, per say. One significant example of this is DoTerra’s (a popular essential oil affiliate marking company, or MLM) use of the term Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade (CPTG). They are loud advocates of how important it is that any essential oil you buy has on it’s label CPTG. They say that’s how you can know your oil is of the highest quality. What consumers may not realize is that there is no national board or panel or laboratory that is responsible for testing all of the essential oils from all the different companies and pronouncing this certification. Indeed, it is DoTerra that awards themselves the label of CPTG. It goes a step further, in that they’ve also patented the term CPTG so no other essential oil company could use it even if they wanted to. Only DoTerra can use CPTG on their label, and they ensure their consumers avoid any other company that doesn’t have it on theirs. It’s a bit misleading. And many companies have their own version of the same story. Their products may be as great as they claim, but they certainly don't have exclusive access to high-quality products, and you can certainly find comparable qualities at more affordable prices.
Essentially, the real test of the quality of the product is if you’re getting personal results. Make sure you read carefully how soon you should expect certain results with each product. Some supplements recommend using it “as needed.” Others say you will see results after one month of continual use. Make sure you adjust your expectations accordingly. If, after following the given recommendations, you’re still not seeing results, it could very well be a poor quality supplement and you should consider switching brands. Look for companies whose products are manufactured in the U.S. where there are higher standards and regulations in the production process.
IT'S ALL ABOUT ABSORPTION
And when it comes to choosing a multi-vitamin, what makes the critical difference is how effectively your body is able to utilize its nutritional properties. The closer the ingredients are to FOOD (and I certainly don't mean pizza or potato chips) the more readily your body can absorb the minerals into the bloodstream. I’ve listed in order of highest absorption rate the best methods of micro/macro-nutrient preparation to look for:
1. FOOD IS MEDICINE:
The very best place to get your daily micro and macro nutrients is through food itself—plant based whole foods that are naturally abundant in the essential building blocks of life: leafy greens, legumes, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc. It is well documented that our bodies, with optimal gut flora, can absorb the most from whole food sources, upwards of 90% of its nutritious properties.
When you are unable to get your daily nutrients solely through your food (due to financial, time, or availability constraints) the second best option to improve your overall health is to supplement with a high quality multi-vitamin. Look for blends that are food-based, meaning it contains whole foods on the ingredients label, which allows its nutritional properties to be more fully absorbed into your blood stream. This prenatal multi-vitamin (pictured below) is my go-to recommendation to my clients because of its food-based ingredients (vsnatureworks.com). It was developed by Vickie herself in response to the lack of high quality multi-vitamins on the market. Notice that you don't see an itemized list of all the individual vitamins and minerals spelled out on the ingredients list? That's because those vitamins and minerals are contained within the food itself (ie: blue green algae, bee pollen, garlic, barley, wheat grass, etc.). Those plants have already done the work of breaking down and absorbing the vitamins and minerals from the soil and sunlight they grew in, which makes it digestible in your body!
Your third best option is choosing chelated supplements. Many multi-vitamins on the market undergo a chelation process, which takes mineral sources and bonds specific amino acids to it in order to promote absorption. Synthetic minerals require this process in order to be usable in the body. (Food-based supplements achieve this naturally by providing the broken-down version upfront, meaning, the plant itself “pre-digested” it for you. This saves your body time and helps deliver the nutrient’s health benefits much faster.) However, the absorption rate is a bit lower for chelated minerals than food-based nutrients, and they generate more heat (because of that chemical process) in the body which can cause loose stools. But you are likely to see better results than with standard non-chelated synthetic products.
Supplements that list nutrients individually without showing the food-source it's derived from (ie: Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Iron, Zinc, Copper, etc.) or use chemical names like ascorbic acid, are almost certainly the synthetic form. Synthetic nutrients are made artificially in a laboratory setting or industrial process, like pictured below, and are not as readily absorbable. This means the vitamins and minerals will most likely pass right through you and very little gets absorbed into the body. You won’t see optimal results, and is a subpar investment.
A NOTE ABOUT FOLIC ACID
If your body has an MTHFR gene mutation and you supplement with folic acid, it may lead to high levels of unmetabolized folic acid, negatively affecting both you and your baby. The abundance of folic acid overwhelms the receptors so that methylfolate is not absorbed properly. This problem can then lead to fetal loss, immune dysfunction, and in some, acceleration of certain cancers. When selecting a prenatal vitamin, look for methylfolate instead of folic acid.
I want to stress that there's no wrong vitamin out there and anything you take is better than not taking anything. Sometimes time, energy, finances, and availability make optimal health not only hard but nigh impossible. You are doing a great job making that sweet little baby of yours. There's no need to use this information to beat yourself up and create more stress. Hopefully you found the information helpful and that it contributes to your personal empowerment.
Here's to your health and that of your baby's!
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