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Some women swear by taking prenatal vitamins when not pregnant for their health and beauty benefits, but whether the technique is safe is not clear.
Prenatal vitamins usually contain folic acid, a derivative of vitamin B that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spine in babies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all women of childbearing potential get 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, but the health agency doesn’t say the daily serving has to come from a prenatal supplement.
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Jeff Gladd of Fort Wayne, Indiana, chief medical officer and private practitioner of integrative medicine at Fullscript, an online nutritional supplement pharmacy, told Fox News Digital that women who are not pregnant generally benefit from taking prenatal vitamins as a multivitamin .
“There are some caveats to keep in mind that can make prenatal care an advantage for some who aren’t pregnant while being a disadvantage for others,” Gladd said. “Knowing more about your nutritional needs through regular blood tests is often the differentiator.”
Prenatal vitamins typically “go beyond a general multivitamin” because “pregnant women often need extra support” for their babies, according to Gladd.
The vitamins formulated for pregnant women are rich in iron, folic acid (usually in the form of methylfolate) and omega-3 fatty acids.
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“[These vitamins and minerals] are important for both women and men to give additional consideration and are therefore not usually a reason to avoid prenatal testing,” Gladd said.
Iron advantages and disadvantages
Pregnant women typically need more iron, and prenatal vitamins often provide support in this area, Gladd said.
“Iron isn’t always needed by a woman who isn’t pregnant, and it’s one of those nutrients that you definitely don’t want excessive amounts of,” he continued.
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At the same time, iron in prenatal vitamins could offer a variety of benefits for non-pregnant women who are deficient in the mineral, according to Gladd.
Gladd noted that iron deficiency can be caused by regular blood loss during menstruation, diets low in red meat, or common acid-suppressing medications, which can potentially decrease iron absorption.
“This delicate balance of not wanting too much or too little iron is why I so often measure iron and ferritin — a stored form of iron — in my patients with blood tests to determine and determine their daily iron needs whether or not a prenatal vitamin is appropriate for them,” Gladd said.
Folic acid advantages and disadvantages
Gladd told Fox News Digital that folic acid and vitamin B9 help prevent spinal cord neural tube defects in developing fetuses, and a minimum dose of 400 micrograms per day is usually recommended for pregnant women.
“This level of folic acid is fairly common in non-prenatal multivitamins, so it’s often safe [for nonpregnant women to take]’ Glad said.
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Folic acid can be taken if a person has a vitamin B deficiency that causes certain types of anemia, according to MedlinePlus, an online medical information service from the United States National Library of Medicine.
“Take folic acid exactly as directed,” wrote MedlinePlus in a folic acid guide. “Don’t take more or less of it, or take it more often than directed by your doctor.”
The FDA warns that high intakes of folic acid could pose potential health risks, although the risks are largely unknown as more research is needed.
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“The FDA itself limited the folic acid content of fortified foods, formulas, and over-the-counter vitamin supplements to no more than 1 mg because it was known that more than 5 mg per day can mask vitamin B12 deficiency,” the FDA wrote in a folic acid Enrichment: Fact and Torly Report.
Pros and cons of omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient for all humans, but women can benefit from consuming these polyunsaturated fats, whether planning to conceive or not.
“Prenatal intake of omega-3 fatty acids is gaining traction thanks to research,” Gladd told Fox News Digital. “It’s best for any woman of childbearing age to get this extra folate support in the event of pregnancy given the need for babies so early.”
Gladd said prenatal vitamins containing omega-3 fatty acids may help non-pregnant women who are deficient in the nutrient, especially if their diets aren’t optimally supplied.
Omega-3 deficiencies can lead to rough, scaly skin and dermatitis, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH): Office of Dietary Supplements.
The NIH recommends that teenage girls and women consume 1.1 grams of omega-3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. Pregnant teenagers and women should consume 1.4 grams.
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Taking too much omega-3 fatty acid could pose a potential risk for people prescribed a blood-thinning medication, reports the NIH.
The FDA recommends consulting a physician before taking any dietary supplement.