Supplements To Optimize Health (Part 1/3): Prenatal Vitamins, Active Folate, Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Food + Nutrition | Original Writing
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I am often asked what supplements I recommend to improve whole body health and wellness. Suggestions are always tailored and unique, but there are certain supplements I frequently suggest for their profound health benefits. The next two posts will be dedicated to recommended supplements for different issues and stages of life.

Both posts will include supplements appropriate for adults, including women of reproductive age who are planning a pregnancy or are already pregnant. This inaugural post below include specific recommendations focused on the mom’s-to-be among us, though both posts in this series will review benefits in general and in pregnancy, A future post will review specific supplements to help boost fertility, and another will review supplements that are helpful for treatment of anxiety and depression.

Part two will cover three favorite supplements including Lemon Balm, which has been used medicinally for over 2000 years, N-Aceytl Cysteine (NAC), which is a natural mood stabilizer, and Probiotics, which effect general health through the gut/body axis.

The final article wraps up with Vitamin D, of which 40-60% of the US population are deficient, Magnesium Glycinate, which helps the 80% of deficient Americans reach normal magnesium levels, and Curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant.

Prenatal Vitamins

Thorne Research – Basic Prenatal (Reformulated) – Folate Multivitamin for Women – 90 Capsules

This one goes without saying – prenatal vitamins are essential during pregnancy. Ideally, for optimal effects, a prenatal vitamin should be started at least three months prior to planned conception. There is no reason not to start taking a prenatal earlier rather than later. Data suggests benefit from use of active folate or folic acid months prior to conception to enhance benefits in terms of prevention of neural tube defects, and possibly further minimizing risk of neurological disorders. I prefer to recommend prenatal vitamins with active folate for the reasons outlined below and in this post on active folate compared to folic acid.

Look for a prenatal vitamin that includes:

  • >800 micrograms (mcg) of active folate
    • up to 4mg of active folate for subsequent pregnancies if you have had a child with a neural tube defect.
  • >400 IU of vitamin D (see below)
  • 200 to 300 milligrams (mg) of calcium.
    • Especially in the third trimester when the baby’s bones are rapidly growing and expanding.
    • Must be taken along with vitamin D
  • 70 mg of vitamin C
  • 3 mg of thiamine (vitamin B1).
  • 2 mg of riboflavin (vitamin B2).
  • 20 mg of niacin (vitamin B3).
  • 2mg of vitamin B6.
  • 6 mcg of vitamin B12.
  • 10 mg of vitamin E.
  • 15 mg of zinc.
  • 30 mg of iron.
    • Supports baby’s growth and development, and helps prevent anemia
  • 2mg of copper.
  • 220 micrograms of iodine (increasing to 290mcg according to the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization)

A word on iodine

Iodine can be tricky – the American Thyroid Association suggestions 150mcg of iodine daily in pregnancy, however most prenatal vitamins contain potassium iodide, which is not the same as 150mcg of iodine

  • To be safe, look for a prenatal with 250mcg of iodine or potassium iodide.
  • Iodine is critical in pregnancy for baby’s brain development
  • Women with iodine deficiency in pregnancy have babies with lower IQ’s and cognitive delays
  • Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation in the world.

Back to prenatals

Take them at night if the prenatal vitamin makes you nauseated. Remember, a prenatal vitamin daily does not supplant proper nutrition in advance of and during pregnancy!

My Favorite: Thorne Research – Basic Prenatal (Reformulated) – Folate Multivitamin for Women – 90 Capsules

Folate / 5MTHF

Thorne Research – 5-MTHF Folate Supplement – 1 mg Folate – 60 Capsules
1mg / day: Active folate (aka 5MTHF) is beneficial for prevention of neural tube defects, and can boost mood by allowing for production of necessary neurotransmitters in the brain. Please see prior posts on the benefits of folate, and the differences between active folate and folic acid.

5MTHF and folate require vitamin B12 for activation, so add a B12 lozenge or drop for optimal benefit from folate.
Designs for Health – Vitamin B12, 60 Lozenges

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (DHA/EPA)

Designs for Health – OmegAvail Ultra DHA, 60 Softgels
at least 1 gram daily;

Omega-3 fatty acids are not produced naturally by our bodies, but are essential for health. So, we must ingest fatty acids to have sufficient levels in our bodies. Omega-3’s are available via fish oil supplements or by eating fatty fishes. Vegetarians/vegans can substitute fish-oil-derived omega-3’s with flax seed.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are the main essential fatty acids in the human diet.

Omega-3 sources

  • Fatty fish / fish oil – contains two forms of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids:
    • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
      • supports the brain, eyes, and central nervous system (making DHA especially important for a developing fetus)
      • Much of our brain is made up of this!
    • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
      • Supports the heart, immune system, and inflammatory response
      • Anti-inflammatory and thus anti-anxiety in nature!

Vegetarians may substitute algae DHA for fish-based forms.

Omega-6 sources

  • Palm, soybean, corn, canola (rapeseed) and sunflower oils

Omega-9 fatty acids are not considered essential, but can be found in animal fats and olive oils.
Having an imbalance in favor of omega-6 over omega-3 fatty acids in the body has been linked with multiple medical conditions, such as heart disease and depression.

Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for

  • Depression and Anxiety
    • Data suggests EPA has more antidepressant and anti-anxiety affects than DHA
  • Cancer
  • Autoimmune disorders
    • Via reducing inflammation
  • ADHD
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
    • Lowering cholesterol is linked with reducing the risk of coronary heart disease
  • Heart disorders
    • Lowering triglycerides via omega-3’s in patients with heart disorders has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks, arrhythmias, and strokes.

In pregnancy, omega-3’s are essential for mom and her developing baby

  • Essential for neurologic and early vision development for a growing fetus
    • Many American’s are deficient in omega-3’s, especially pregnant women, whose already low stores are used up by the developing fetus. This can have multiple negative health effects for mom, including increasing the risk of postpartum depression.
  • Required for production of breast milk
  • Adequate omega-3 levels prevent preterm labor and delivery, lower the risk of pre-eclampsia and may increase birth weight.

Be sure to buy only quality fish oil supplements that are mercury free. If you buy a fish oil that smells or tastes overly fishy, the oil has likely spoiled and is not a suitable supplement. Look for pure fish oils, such as from Nordic Naturals that are odorless and tasteless.
Check here for more on Omega-3’s. Health Ambition is another great blog and this post is chock full of info on omega 3 foods to add to your diet.
Another favorite: Designs for Health – OmegAvail Ultra DHA, 60 Softgels


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