Prenatal Supplements

Prenatal supplements are nutrient-rich products that woman who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant take to meet the dietary nutritional. However, the recipe and formulation of these products do not always align with the scientific literature or the bottle labels themselves.


Many of us seek out a variety of dietary supplements and nutritional alternatives in the medicinal isle. But have you considered the label regulation of over-the-counter supplements? Do the contents on the label tell the entire story of what is in those bottles? This information is crucial in the case of pregnant and prenatal women who take these dietary supplements for their well-being and of the developing foetus.

In order to determine the differences in nutritional and non-nutritional content between supplements, two databases, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and The Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD), were used to identify and include all types and forms of subscription (n=82) and non-prescription (n=132).The results of the study are published in the Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (1). The authors found that compared with the nonprescription products, prescription products and compared the levels of vitamins (vitamin A and D), minerals (zinc, iron, iodine) and micronutrients.

All the prenatal labels in the study appeared to adhere to the mandatory labelling requirements established by the FDA. However, the optional information with respect to the maximum dose or minimum duration of use was missing. Out of the products evaluated by the research team, fewer prescription products contained botanical ingredients (6% prescription vs 33% nonprescription) and probiotics (2% prescription vs 8% nonprescription), whereas the stool softener (docusate sodium) was present in the prescription products alone. The study also showed that prescription products contained fewer nutrients (9 vs 11 vitamins and 4 vs 8 minerals) with discrepancies in the dosage for vitamin A and D, iodine, and calcium that were reported to be lower, whereas for folate it was higher. Zinc, DHA, and iron were at the same levels as the non-prescription prenatals. More alarmingly, all the products contained higher levels of one or more nutrients than outlined by the Recommended Dietary Allowances for pregnant or lactating women.

Although this study was limited to products listed in DSLD and Dailymed, it established clear differences between the declared composition and nutrient index of prescription and nonprescription products. More importantly, the current label information is inadequate for the consumers to make informed decisions while purchasing such supplements.

Written by Akshita Wason, B. Tech, PhD

  1. Saldanha, Leila G., et al. “Is Nutrient Content and Other Label Information for Prescription Prenatal Supplements Different from Nonprescription Products?.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics(2017).
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