Supplements are a tricky thing. It’s easy to read up on them and throw yourself into a panic, convincing yourself that you’re deficient in a bazillion different things.
“OMG!” you’ll think, “What if THAT’S why I can’t lose weight / have poor skin / am tired all the time / have problems with constipation / etc. etc. etc.”
And here comes the tricky part: you could be right. Nutrient deficiencies can have pretty powerful effects on the body, and many of us are unknowingly dealing with some of them.
It’s easy to blame our symptoms on other things, though—things like too much sugar, bad sleep habits, a stressful day—and we could be right about that too. The body is a complicated thing!
You can get your levels tested, of course, but the problem with that is that it’s always just a snapshot of one single moment in your life. Maybe you happened to eat a bunch of red meat the night before your test, so your iron levels look great, but they’re typically low.
In an ideal world, we’d all be eating super balanced, high quality, nutrient rich diets, getting lots of sunshine and exercise, exposing ourselves to healthy bacteria, and completely avoiding the nasty chemicals that run rampant in modern life.
In that world, the word “supplement” wouldn’t be in our vocabulary. And we’d be even better off, since a naturally nutrient-rich body is even healthier than a perfectly supplemented one.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to live in that world, but I will say that I’m not there personally. As much as I try to make good choices, I still rely on modern conveniences, and there are some things that I just can’t control.
For example: it would be great if all my meat and produce came directly from a local organic farm, rather than being shipped from Florida or South America or who-knows-where. But like most Americans, I buy food from grocery stores. I eat things that aren’t in season in my area. And I’m not quite ready to pay the 5X higher price tags for grass-fed beef and wild-caught seafood (although I am willing to fork over a little more for cage-free, vegetarian-fed chicken and eggs).
But I’m always tweaking my habits, so who knows. Maybe this time next year, I’ll have a completely different food routine.
For now, at this very second, I’m pregnant and trying to do the best I can to grow a healthy baby within my current day-to-day habits. This is already a pretty high-pressure situation, when you realize just how much mom’s health impacts baby’s health (for his/her entire life, many studies say)—and the more you research, the worse it gets. In my case, add in the fact that I still carry around guilt about Mason’s food allergies (was it something I did while pregnant?), and I’m a little extra primed for paranoia.
But paranoia beats indifference…right?
Today I thought I’d share a little info about the supplements I’ve been taking throughout this pregnancy. I’m doing this NOT to make recommendations (I’m not a doctor—this is only what I think is best for me!), but to give you ideas on what to research if you’re considering supplementation during pregnancy.
I take this one.
Newer studies are claiming that a huge percentage of general health problems can be traced directly to unhealthy/unbalanced gut flora, and lots of holistic health nuts (I say that lovingly) agree that getting enough healthy bacteria into your system is one of the best things you can do for your health (preggo or not!).
Recently, I was browsing around a new supplement store near our house, just out of curiosity, and ended up getting into a discussion with the owner about supplementation for pregnancy. His #1 suggestion, even over a prenatal vitamin, was a good quality probiotic.
Personally, I have three other reasons for taking probiotics:
–I don’t eat yogurt or fermented foods (outside of the occasional kombucha). Even if I did eat yogurt regularly, I’d have to eat tonnnns of it (think: a gallon a day) to hit the same levels my probiotic offers.
–I’m positive for Group B Strep (which you probably haven’t heard of unless you’ve been pregnant). It’s totally normal and common, but it means I have to get antibiotics during labor to help prevent infection in the baby.
Here’s the problem: babies get huge amounts of healthy bacteria from mom on the way out of the birth canal, which helps jumpstart their immune systems in preparation for life outside the womb. Antibiotics kill bacteria. So, to give my baby as much bacterial bang for his buck as I can, I want to make sure I have super-top-notch levels of healthy bacteria in my system before going into labor.
(P.S. I’ve also considered refusing the antibiotics…not sure if I’m crunchy enough for that yet, but it’s on my mind…)
–I have a very touchy digestive system, and I find that I do better with extra probiotic help. I like drinking kombucha, which does the same thing, but I can’t afford to do that every day and haven’t yet tried making my own.
(P.S. Lots of people think the key to digestive problems is more fiber—not necessarily true. Fiber is a prebiotic that feeds bacteria, which means you have to have bacteria there in the first place for it to do you any good. Also, fiber adds bulk to stool, which can make things even worse if you’re constipated.)
2. Fermented cod liver oil
I take this one. (And I only take one capsule a day, although the serving size says two.)
Cod liver oil is a natural source of omega 3, 6, 7, and 9 (meaning their levels are perfectly balanced) along with vitamins A and D, iodine, and a few other things.
I take this only because I don’t eat much seafood, and the benefits of seafood (especially fatty fish) are huge, especially during pregnancy. DHA is one of its biggest offerings—it’s super important for baby’s brain development, and OBs are just now starting to suggest prenatals that include it as a general recommendation.
A lot of pregnant women are scared about getting too much vitamin A, since it’s been linked to birth defects. A couple things about this:
–Vitamin A toxicity only applies to preformed vitamin A (retinol). The A in my prenatal vitamin is in the form of beta carotene, so I don’t worry about combining cod liver oil and my prenatal on the same day. (If they both had retinol, I’d probably not take the prenatal on the days I take cod liver oil.)
–People are still unsure how much vitamin A you’d need to get to reach toxic levels. Reports of serious toxicity usually involve things like polar bear livers, which most of us probably aren’t consuming in huge quantities. If I ate liver regularly, I might be more cautious about this, but that’s definitely not the case over here!
One other important key to vitamin A is that it needs to come along with the right amount of vitamin D. As a natural source of both vitamins, cod liver oil handles this perfectly, making it perfectly absorbable by the body.
3. Prenatal vitamin
Even though I get lots of great nutrition from cod liver oil, I still take a prenatal as well. Some people feel totally comfortable omitting prenatals (again, ideally, our diets would be enough), but personally, I’m not confident enough in the nutrient density of my diet to do that. And, let’s be real—it helps me feel “covered.”
This is a great option for a whole-food-based prenatals, which are much better than synthetic ones. At the very least, look for something that has no artificial dyes or hydrogenated oils. Bonus points if it includes “folate” instead of “folic acid,” since folate is what your body is really looking for.
(I don’t want to scare you, but studies have suggested that too much synthetic folic acid can increase risk of some types of cancers, and it may not even be as effective in preventing neural tube defects. The Wellness Mama has a great post about all this here. Bottom line: try to fill your diet with as much REAL folate as possible during pregnancy—you can get it from things like spinach and beans.)
Other things to look for in a prenatal are iron and calcium (which pretty much all of them have), and vitamin K2 (trickier to find—K2 is really important for proper facial structure development in fetuses).
I take this one. (The key is to get magnesium + something that ends in –trate—this one is magnesium citrate—vs. the cheapo magnesium oxide stuff that’s not absorbed as well.)
Magnesium is a mineral that it’s very, veeery common to be deficient in, in general. During pregnancy, a deficiency in mag has been linked to things like poor fetal growth and preeclampsia.
Magnesium is also known to help with a bunch of different things that plague pregnant women, including constipation, insomnia, and leg cramps—and let me tell you: in my experience, it WORKS. I ran out of it at one point and didn’t get more for awhile, and I definitely noticed the difference.
(P.S. The Wellness Mama wrote a great post on magnesium too!)
5. Coconut oil
This isn’t a pill, obviously, but it’s similar in that it’s a nutrient power house in a tiny package. Coconut oil has been called a “pregnancy super food,” and it’s also awesome for breastfeeding (I just learned that most infant formulas include coconut oil because of how awesome it is for babies).
Why so awesome? Well, coconut oil is a healthy fat, and obviously you need fat to absorb all the fat-soluble vitamins we talked about earlier. Fat is also critical for brain health. But coconut oil is special because it also contains a bunch of lauric acid, which has antiviral, antibacterial and parasiticidal (kills parasites) properties that support proper immune function for both mom & baby.
I cook with coconut oil all the time, and lately I’ve been putting it in my coffee. I also rub it on my stomach to help with preggo itchiness (sadly, I don’t really believe any topical stuff helps prevent stretch marks—that’s a genetics game…that I’m totally not winning at! Womp womp).
So there you go!
Again, I’m NOT an expert on all this—I’m still learning myself, all the time—but I know that I personally love reading about how others handle supplementation, so I thought you might be interested in my take.
Please do your own research and talk to your doc before making any supplement-related decisions!
Do you take supplements? If so, which ones?