Role of vitamins & supplements during pregnancy
A woman has to be both healthy and physically fit during her pregnancy more than ever. A pregnant woman has to take care of not only herself but also of another human being growing inside her. As a result, her normal food intake might not be sufficient enough to fulfill the additional nutritional requirements during pregnancy. Nutritional deficiencies can be life-threatening to both the fetus and the pregnant mother. Thus, it is advised to take extra vitamins and supplements during and before pregnancy to prevent such nutritional disorders from happening in the first place.
Folic acid is essential in preventing neural tube defects affecting the fetal central nervous system. It is advised for every woman of child bearing age (15-45 years) to consume at least 400µg of folic acid every day. Besides, every woman should consume folic acid (uninterrupted) for at least 1-3 months before trying to get pregnant. Folic acid consumption is really crucial within the first trimester of pregnancy where all the vital organ development is taking place.
The iron supplement is usually taken along with folic acid. Iron deficiency anemia is a common health issue among pregnant women around the world. Low hemoglobin levels mean low oxygen supply to the fetus. Therefore, WHO recommends consuming at least 30-60mg of elemental iron orally every day.
Vitamin C is involved in the synthesis of collagen and metabolism of iron and folate. It is a powerful antioxidant which has the ability to prevent preeclampsia like diseases associated with oxidative stress. It is recommended to consume about 70mg of Vitamin C per day. However, according to recent findings, too much of vitamin C can cause preterm birth.
Pregnant mothers can also consume natural sources of vitamin C like kiwi and oranges.
Vitamin B complex
B1 (Thiamine): Important in brain development. Should take about 1.4mg each day. It is naturally found in grains, yeast, peas, and pork.
B2 (Riboflavin): Important for healthy eyes and skin. It reduces the risk of preeclampsia. Should consume about 1.4mg/day. Natural sources include yogurt, cheese, chicken, almond, and sweet potatoes.
B3 (Niacin): It is useful in morning sickness and nausea. It improves digestion. It is recommended to have about 18mg/day. Natural sources are peas, tuna, chicken, and brown rice.
B5 (Pantothenic acid): Eases the pain of leg cramps. It is recommended to have about 6mg/day. Natural sources include whole grains, brown rice, and egg yolk.
B6 (Pyridoxine): Important in brain and nerve development. It is recommended to have 25-50mg/day. Natural sources are bananas, papaya, beans, and whole grains.
B7 (Biotin): Deficiency of vitamin B7 often occurs during pregnancy. It is recommended to have about 30µg/day. Natural sources are oats, mushrooms, and milk.
B12 (Cobalamin): Helps to prevent central nervous system birth defects. It is recommended to have about 2.6mg/day. Natural sources include soy milk, fish, eggs, and poultry.
Other vitamins and supplements
Calcium: 1.5-2g of oral elemental calcium every day.
Iodine: 150 µg/day
Vitamin D: 400 IU/day
Natural vs. Synthetic sources of vitamins
Although vitamin supplementation seems like the most convenient choice for many nutritional requirements, there is more to it than just buying over the counter and gulping down with water. Specially, pregnant mothers have to be really careful about the potential side effects of consuming synthetic vitamins and their over dosage.
Synthetic vitamins are isolated chemical compounds which are produced to mimic the action of the natural ones. Human body cannot recognize these synthetic vitamins in the same way as the natural forms because these natural versions usually come in packages with other vitamins, enzymes, and minerals which make them easier to be digested and metabolized.
These synthetic vitamins, especially the fat soluble ones like vitamin A, D, E, and K tend to accumulate within the body causing various side effects.
Over dosage and side effects
When vitamins are consumed more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) amount, they accumulate within the body and cause various side effects. These side effects vary from less severe constipation, nausea, and vomiting to more severe, life-threatening cancers and birth defects.
Over dosage of synthetic vitamin A in pregnant mothers can result in fatal birth defects in their unborn children.
Over dosage of calcium results in hypercalcemic conditions in which abnormal heart rhythms can be observed.
Over dosage of synthetic vitamin E results in bleeding abnormalities. They can be very risky at the time of delivery.
It is always better to give priority to natural sources of vitamins as they hardly cause any over dosage problem. However, at times of significant nutrient deficiencies, you will have to consume the synthetic ones as well, strictly adhering to the guidelines.