Industry rebuts scientists’ claims that pregnancy multivits are “waste of money”

A panel of scientists has accused the supplements industry of “heavily marketing” pregnancy multivitamins to mothers-to-be who, they argue, do not in the main need them.

Writing in Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, the scientists say they reviewed a wide body of research and found that specialist pregnancy supplements did not boost the health of mothers and babies.

However, the scientists say there is “good evidence” for the use of folic acid to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida, and some evidence for the use of vitamin D, which is important for bone and tooth formation and the ability to absorb calcium.

They write: “Pregnant women may be vulnerable to messages about giving their baby the best start in life, regardless of cost, and be unaware that the only supplements recommended for all women during pregnancy are folic acid and vitamin D, which are available at relatively low cost.

“For most women who are planning to become pregnant or who are pregnant, complex multivitamin and mineral preparations promoted for use during pregnancy are unlikely to be needed and are an unnecessary expense.”

The scientists also says that much of the evidence for vitamin supplementation in pregnancy “comes from studies carried out in low-income countries, where women are more likely to be undernourished or malnourished than within the UK population”.

But the supplements industry argues that there is a strong case for mothers-to-be to use supplements to address “dietary gaps”. Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the industry-funded Health Supplements Information Service, told the Daily Mail: “The authors of this study wrongly claim that vitamin and mineral supplements must produce clinical effects before pregnant women are encouraged to take them.

“This is absolute nonsense. Except for folic acid, which does have a therapeutic role by actively preventing neural tube disorders, the role of food supplements is simply to combat dietary gaps.

The Health Food Manufacturers’ Association added: “The National Diet and Nutrition Survey analysis highlights that a substantial proportion of women of child bearing age are consuming inadequate amounts of micronutrients – such as iodine, calcium and iron – so it is misleading to suggest that low-income countries are the only populations which show evidence of the risks of deficiency.”

Many nutritional supplements containing vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients are heavily marketed to women for all stages of pregnancy. However, much of the evidence for vitamin supplementation in pregnancy comes from studies carried out in low-income countries,3 where women are more likely to be undernourished or malnourished than within the UK population.