Wrong prenatal vitamins harm babies

Local | Phoebe Ng 12 Mar 2018

Taking the wrong prenatal vitamins does more harm than good to your baby, a gynecologist warns.

Ivo Chen Siu-wan, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist, cited as an example the confusion over fish oil and fish liver oil.

"Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements are good for a baby's brain. However, fish liver oil is not recommended for pregnant women since its fat-soluble vitamin contents pose a greater risk of toxicity," she said.

In some serious cases, the use of fish liver oil can even result in birth defects.

"Supplements with fat-soluble vitamins - such as vitamins A, D, E and K - will be stored in the body, causing a heavier burden on the liver," she said.

Another potential trap in pregnancy is folic acid overdose, which can raise the risk of autism to a baby.

"Most women know folic acid helps growth of an unborn baby's spine, but many mothers have done it wrong," Chen said.

Women should take daily 400 micrograms of folate supplements four weeks before conceiving until eight weeks of pregnancy. Failure to do so heightens risk of autism by 40 percent.

"First, some mothers start taking folic acids far too late; and second, some take far too much - and both can be counter-productive," she said.

For instance, hospital prescriptions of folate supplements are normally five milligrams - 12.5 times in excess of what a mother needs.

"That is why women should always check the dosage label of the packaging," she said.

Her warning came as World Green Organisation released a study on prenatal health supplements.

Early this year the group commissioned a laboratory to conduct biological tests for toxicity and estrogen; chemical tests for harmful chemicals and heavy metals; and an ingredient test for other additives on antenatal products available on the market.

All 17 chosen samples passed the test, but Chen and WGO founder William Yu Yuen-ping also suggested ways to make smarter choices.

"It is always good for pregnant women to take in some health supplements," Chen said. "Many do not get all the vitamins they need from their diet alone - either because of their eating habits or morning sickness."

Meanwhile, Yu said pregnant mothers can replace fish oil with more environmentally friendly algal oil for Omega-3.

"Deep-sea fish used for fish oil tend to have a higher metal concentration," Yu said. "Essentially they are rich in nutrition Omega-3 because of their algal diet. So choosing algal oil is not only equally effective, but also healthier for our planet."

Chen warns: "Women have to stop taking fish oil at 34 weeks of pregnancy, lest they face heightened risk of bleeding. Algal oil though can be costlier."


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