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Food supplements for pregnant women - what expectant mothers really need

Folic acid, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin tablets A-Z: there are various (orthomolecular) nutritional supplements for pregnant women & breastfeeding mothers on the market. Unfortunately, many of the preparations available today are inadequately adapted to the actual needs and sometimes contain dosages that are in no way justifiable.

According to surveys by the Technical University of Munich, around 97% of expectant mothers take nutritional supplements. Reason enough for us to take a closer look at the individual vitamins, minerals and other vital substances and highlight the sense and nonsense in our article "Dietary supplements for pregnant women".

The fact is that the need for certain nutrients increases more during pregnancy than the energy requirement. The recommended additional amount of energy is around 250 kcal/day, which is roughly equivalent to a small plate of pasta or wholemeal bread with a spread.

Folic acid:

Folate or folic acid is a water-soluble B vitamin and an indispensable factor for cell division and DNA formation. In order for the embryo - especially its neural tube (part of the central nervous system in the area of the spinal cord) - to develop properly, folic acid intake must be significantly increased during pregnancy.

The German Nutrition Society recommends taking 400 µg in the form of food supplements. In fact, the average intake in Germany is < 200 µg. As the formation of the neural tube is already complete on the 28th day of pregnancy (many women do not even know that they are pregnant at this point), women who wish to have children should definitely start taking additional folic acid before the start of pregnancy. Otherwise there is a risk of malformations in the child, which could even lead to a stillbirth. Breastfeeding mothers should also take additional folic acid, as the growing child is still supplied via breast milk. Conclusion: mandatory intake

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Omega-3 fatty acids:

Another important factor for the healthy development of the child is the omega-3 fatty acids. The long-chain omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA for short) is particularly important for the development and function of the eyes and brain. The DGE recommends a daily intake of 200 mg DHA during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily sea fish such as salmon or mackerel. However, as these types of fish contain high levels of mercury, they are not suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Conclusion: Recommended

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Iodine:

Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones. From the 4th month of pregnancy, the unborn child's thyroid gland can produce thyroid hormones itself and is therefore dependent on the mother's iodine supply. A lack of iodine can impair the child's development and lead to malformations of the brain, among other things. It is therefore advisable to use only iodised table salt and to take additional iodine during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The recommended intake of 230 µg/day during pregnancy is only rarely achieved without additional supplements. Conclusion: Recommended

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Vitamin A:

The need for vitamin A (retinol) is increased during both pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, this additional requirement is easily covered by food. An additional (high) vitamin A intake in the form of food supplements even harbours the risk of teratogenic damage (malformations of the embryo). Even if more recent studies have not been able to confirm these effects, it is better to exercise caution here, especially as any additional benefit appears doubtful. However, there is no danger with ß-carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A in the body, but the body can regulate this so that there is no oversupply. Conclusion: Hands off

Iron:

Iron requirements also increase during pregnancy, especially in the last half of pregnancy. As iron is essential for the baby's oxygen supply, a deficiency can lead to pregnancy complications. The German Nutrition Society recommends an intake of 30 mg/day - 2-3 times higher than for a non-pregnant woman. However, "too much" iron can also lead to complications, which is why iron supplements should only be taken in consultation with a doctor or only low-dose iron products (< 10 mg) should be taken. Conclusion: Conditionally recommended

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Calcium:

Your unborn child needs sufficient calcium for the optimal development of bones, brain and teeth. Calculated over the entire pregnancy, the mother must provide approx. 30 g of additional calcium, but at the same time the absorption rate from food is also increased. Those who rarely consume dairy products should take extra calcium, the rest do not need it.
The German Nutrition Society does not recommend additional intake during pregnancy. Conclusion: Conditionally recommended.

B vitamins:

Vitamin B2:

Vitamin B2 plays a significant role in the development and strengthening of the immune system due to its involvement in the formation of antibodies and haematopoiesis. The German Nutrition Society recommends an increased intake of vitamin B2 for pregnant and breastfeeding women, although this is often covered by the normal diet. Conclusion: Conditionally recommended

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Vitamin B6: 

Studies show that a vitamin B6 deficiency during pregnancy increases the risk of gestational diabetes and seizures. It is also suitable as a remedy for morning sickness. The requirement during pregnancy and breastfeeding is significantly increased, but an undersupply is rare. Conclusion: Conditionally recommended

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Vitamin B12:

Vitamin B12 is required for the formation of red blood cells and cells in general. The need for vitamin B12 is significantly increased during pregnancy and breastfeeding. To make matters worse, some foods containing vitamin B12 must be removed from the diet during pregnancy. Vegetarians in particular should take additional B12. Conclusion: Recommended

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Chromium:

Almost 5% of all pregnant women develop diabetes during the course of their pregnancy.
The reason for this is the release of pregnancy hormones, which lead to increased insulin resistance. This mechanism is very similar to that of type 2 diabetes. Scientific studies show that chromium can increase the insulin sensitivity of cells in type 2 diabetes and counteract diabetes. Conclusion: worth a try.

Manganese:

Often used, but with no additional benefit during pregnancy according to current knowledge. As this trace element has not been sufficiently researched to date anyway, the following applies: Fingers off.

Magnesium:

Due to the placenta growing during pregnancy and the baby's bone growth, pregnant women have an increased need for magnesium. Furthermore, the hormonal changes during pregnancy lead to increased excretion via the urine. Deficiency symptoms can occur in the form of tiredness, morning sickness, premature labour and high blood pressure. It is recommended to increase your magnesium intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding, although this is normally covered by your normal diet. Conclusion: Recommended in low doses (max. 150 mg)

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