Our body needs many important vitamins and minerals to function well. For example, B vitamins are particularly important for many of our everyday functions, such as energy levels, cell health, and nerve function.
These vitamins become even more important when the mother is pregnant, as low levels of some vitamins (such as folic acid, also known as vitamin B9) are associated with poor health outcomes during pregnancy and for the baby after birth.
Since our bodies produce many of these micronutrients only in small amounts (if at all), we get most of them from our diet. But our recent research showed that the majority of expectant mothers are missing out on many important vitamins that can potentially affect their health, but also their babies.
We conducted a large-scale survey of over 1,700 women aged 18-38 in the UK, Singapore and New Zealand. We study their health before, during and after pregnancy.
Before pregnancy, we found that 9 out of 10 women had low blood levels of many important vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. These vitamins are needed to support the mother’s health during pregnancy and are important for the mother’s health. development of the unborn baby.
For the next part of the study, we randomly divided the participants into two different groups. One group received a standard pregnancy vitamin supplement containing folic acid. The second group received an enhanced supplement containing folic acid and riboflavin, vitamins B6, B12 and D. The vitamin content of the enhanced supplement was the same as from pharmacies and supermarkets without a prescription.
Both groups took these supplements daily from the time they tried to conceive and throughout their pregnancy. They stopped using them after giving birth.
We found that the boosted supplement helped improve blood vitamin levels and reduce the incidence of vitamin deficiency during pregnancy, particularly for riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin D. The standard supplement increased folic acid levels, but the levels of other vitamins worsened during pregnancy. . This was probably due to increased needs during this period.
Riboflavin is important during pregnancy because low levels can mean a greater chance of low blood counts and anemia.
For vitamin B6, the standard supplement group had lower levels in late pregnancy, meaning they may not have had enough of this vitamin. Previous studies have suggested that vitamin B6 may relieve nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy.
In both groups, we observed a decrease in homocysteine levels, which was particularly evident in those using the enhanced supplement. A lower homocysteine level is actually a good thing because it indicates a lower likelihood of a vitamin deficiency. High levels of homocysteine are associated with early pregnancy loss and many pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia.
The benefits of the boosted supplement on participants’ vitamin B12 levels lasted six months after having a baby. This is probably important for the mother’s ability to supply her baby with vitamin B12 if she breastfeeds. B12 helps children’s brain development and growth.
Although our study included women from three different countries and different ethnic backgrounds, there were few black and American Indian women in the study. This means that the results may not represent the experiences of women from these particular ethnic groups. It is important to examine the vitamin levels of these groups in future studies.
The exact benefits of improved vitamin levels also need to be further explored in future studies. However, we can assume that supplements have additional benefits based on previous research.
For example, our previous studies have shown that women using the same enhanced supplement had a lower rate of premature births and a lower risk of major bleeding after delivery.
It is also well known that folic acid is important during pregnancy as it can help prevent major damage to the developing baby’s brain and spine. Taking a folic acid supplement before conception and in the early stages of pregnancy is routinely recommended.
But many pregnancies are unplanned, and a significant number of women do not take folic acid supplements in the early stages of pregnancy. For this reason, around 80 countries have introduced mandatory supplementation of basic foods. But many experts feel that food supplementation may not be enough for pregnant women, which is why the supplement is still important.
Taking vitamin D supplements before and during pregnancy may also have benefits, such as reducing the chances of infantile atopic eczema (a disease that causes itchy, cracked and tender skin areas) and improving bone health in children.
Overall, our research showed that most women in high-income countries do not get enough essential vitamins in their diet even before pregnancy. Several of these vitamins are important for the development of babies in the womb.
Although some of these vitamins can be found in meat and dairy products, it’s clear that most women still don’t get enough of them, no matter what kind of diet they follow. As more people want to eat more plant-based foods, better advice on vitamin-rich foods is needed. Many women may need to start taking supplements to ensure that they and their baby are getting the vitamins they need.
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