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Study Finds that Majority of Prenatal Supplements Fall Short

Am Journal of Clinical Nutrition logo

Most women and their doctors know that expectant mothers rarely get all of the nutrition they need from their diet alone. So they rely on specially formulated prenatal supplements to make up for the shortfalls.

But a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus finds that while the initial assumption is true—some 90 percent of pregnant women don’t get adequate nutrition from their diets alone—the trust in supplements to fill in the gaps may be misplaced.

The Study

The study followed the diets of 2,450 women throughout their pregnancies. Researchers determined the amounts of key nutrients—vitamin A, vitamin D, folic acid, calcium iron, and omega-3 fatty acids—each participant was getting from food and drink and then calculated how much more would be needed to meet the National Institutes of Health’s nutritional targets for pregnancy. Finally, the researchers compared more than 20,000 vitamins that are available in the U.S. that contained additional nutrients to see if they could make up for the shortfalls.

The results? Some 90 percent of women in the study failed to get adequate nutrition from their diets alone, and 99 percent of the supplements on the market fell short of making up the difference.

“Out of all the prenatal and general vitamins analyzed, we found only one that may potentially give pregnant patients the optimal amounts of the most important nutrients,” said lead author Katherine Sauder, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “But, the monthly cost of this supplement can be too high for some people, and it requires pregnant people to take seven pills a day.”


Sauder says she hopes doctors, patients, and supplement makers use this information to help improve nutritional care during pregnancy. “This research will inform pregnant patients and their doctors about key nutrients they may be missing in their diet and help them choose prenatal vitamins that can provide the nutrients they need,” she said. “Dietary supplement manufacturers can also use these results to inform better dosing in their products.”

Sauder noted that the results of the study also highlight an ongoing need for affordable, convenient prenatal vitamin options that still contain the optimal amounts of key nutrients. She says more research on nutrients in foods is also needed to help pregnant patients get more of these key nutrients in their daily diets.





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