Tuesday, January 7, 2020

How to Choose a Prenatal Vitamin Without Lead, Pesticides nor Plasticizers: No Easy Feat

Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

Millions of excepting women are told to take their prenatal vitamins every day during and after pregnancy.   

We trust our doctors/ friends/ favorite bloggers to advice us on the ‘best’ prenatal  but, how ‘clean’ and ‘non-toxic are these vitamins and who is regulating them?

No one. 

The vitamin industry is self regulated. In the US the FDA doesn’t review prenatal vitamins for safety and effectiveness before they go to market. The FDA relies on manufacturers to test their own products and only takes action if a dietary supplement is adulterated or misbranded once it’s on the shelves.

The ABC affiliate from Washington DC, WJLA, recently tested more than 220 brands of prenatal vitamins for  heavy metals including lead, pesticides and plasticizers like BPA, BPS and phthalates.

The Results were not great. 

 While all levels of lead found in the prenatals tested fell under the US FDA’s recommended limit for daily lead exposure- many agree that this federal limit it too high.   The federal limit is 25 times greater than California’s Prop 65 lead limit of 0.5 mg of lead a day….. and State regulators are considering lowering that standard by 60% to 0.2 micrograms per day. 

  • 25 of the products tested exceeded the limit currently set by California’s Prop 65 law (California’s prop 65  limit is 0.5 micrograms of lead per day)  and may require a warning label before being sold there.
  • The lead levels in one serving of a prenatal vitamin reached to 15 times what the FDA recommends as a limit in apple juice.
  • Just last year the city of LA had an independent, third-party lab test Rainbow Light prenatal vitamins,  and found that they were not, in fact, “free of heavy metals,” and contained detectable levels of lead.  This lead to a $1.75-million settlement and the company agreeing to a rigorous testing protocol that would further reduce the level of lead in its prenatal vitamins.  The company now has to test its prenatal vitamins every six months to determine if the vitamins contain lead in amounts greater than 0.2 micrograms per day.
  • Vitamins tested were also found to have high levels of pesticides and plasticizers like BPA, BPS and phthalates.  Both these classes of chemicals, even in low doses, can have real effects on a developing baby.   

How much lead is too much?
  • - Regardless of ‘recommended limits for daily exposure for lead” all government and non governmental agencies, including the  CDC, FDA and World Health Organization, agree: there is no known safe level of lead. Even low amounts of lead exposure during fetal development will impact the development of a baby’s brain.    
  • - If an expecting woman is taking a vitamin with low levels of lead every day, the lead will cross the placenta.  Chronic low dose and consistent exposure of heavy metal toxicity to an infant can result in autism, ADHD, behavioral, and neurocognitive consequences.
  • - Low dose exposure to pesticides and plasticizers like Bisphenols and phthalates during pregnancy can also affect the development of the fetus.

Should you panic?
No.  Panicking is never good.  You cannot change the past (I did not know this when I became pregnant 9 and 6 years ago and did not do my research either)  but we should take note and- more importantly- do our homework before taking prenatal vitamins (and all vitamins really).

  1. The database collected by Pure Market (based on the testing done by WJLA) is a great resource.  The 202 prenatal vitamins tested are listed here.  You can search for the vitamin you are interested in  
  2. If you don’t find the prenatal you are taking- or if more than a year has passed from today (Jan 2020) when these vitamins were tested (because formulations/ ingredients sometimes change)  it is important to know whether your prenatal has been tested by a third-party lab- ask the manufacturer for their testing results. Specifically request their heavy metal testing and make sure the testing results they provide are recent.
  3. Even if your favorite blogger or doctor or best friend recommends a vitamin- check it out/research it yourself.   For example:  a very trusted blogger recently recommended DEVA prenatal and it turns out that it has a fair amount of lead.   
  4. Just because one product from a company received good test scores- don’t think it is safe to buy another product from the same company- see picture below!  

The worse performing 
  • Nature’s Truth - Prenatal Vitamin :  contained lead nearly double Prop 65’s limit.
  • Mineral Formula contained lead nearly double Prop 65’s limit.
  • Vitamin World Prenatal Complex
  • Best Nest Wellness Mama Bird AM/PM Prenatal Multi+
  • Best Nest Wellness Mama Bird Prenatal Multi+.

Brands that did better
The good news is that some brands have been able to significantly reduce or nearly eliminate lead and other heavy metals.

The best performing brands tested were (please note while they did test 202 prenatal not all prenatal were tested.  The links included are to my Amazon Affiliate shop):  

Additionally, these following prenatal did excellent in avoiding heavy metals but showed low traces of pesticides or plasticizers

  • Ritual Essential Prenatal
  • New Chapter Wholemega for Moms
  • TheraNatal Prenatal Complete - White Tablet
  • Usana Cellsentials Prenatal - Vita Antioxidant
  • Smarty Pants Prenatal Complete (180 ct)
  • One A Day Prenatal Gummies, TheraNatal Prenatal Complete, Nature’s Bounty
  • Hello Bello Prenatal + DHA Gummies.

These last  4 products had an average of 96 times less lead than the products that didn’t perform well.

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