Prenatal vitamins are a must for pregnant women who need higher amounts of vitamins and minerals like folic acid and iron to keep their growing babies healthy. Taking these vitamins can also be a good idea for women who are trying to conceive, since certain developmental problems may develop very early on in a pregnancy, possibly even before a woman knows she is pregnant, and can often be prevented by sufficient amounts of folic acid. However, some women who aren’t pregnant or even trying to get pregnant choose to take prenatal vitamins for other, more cosmetic reasons – but is this a good idea and is there any evidence to back it up? That’s what Teresita wants to know:
The short answer is that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that taking prenatal vitamins can help hair or nails grow longer, faster or stronger. It is true that many pregnant women find that their hair becomes thicker or shinier and their nails stronger during their pregnancies. Some women attribute these changes to their prenatal vitamins, but the reality is that elevated estrogen levels and other changing hormones during pregnancy are likely responsible. Plus, rather than growing more hair than usual, pregnant women are actually just shedding less. A few months after they give birth, most women notice that they begin to lose a lot of hair until their hair returns to pre-pregnancy status.
But not only is taking prenatal vitamins unlikely to help your hair or nails if you’re not pregnant, it may also carry some risks and most experts recommend against it. Usually, prenatal vitamins contain a mixture of folic acid, calcium, iron, vitamin C, zinc, copper, vitamin B6 and vitamin D. Levels of folic acid and iron are typically higher than what you might find in a multivitamin since pregnant women need extra iron to help prevent anemia for themselves and their babies, and folate helps prevent neural tube defects. For a non-pregnant woman, getting too much iron can cause digestive distress like constipation, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting. In rare, extreme cases, you can die from taking too much iron. Rarely, taking high levels of folic acid can mask the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, which could lead to depression, memory loss, dementia and other symptoms if it’s not treated.
It’s also important to know that other vitamin doses in prenatal vitamins (like calcium) are often less than what you might find in a multivitamin and are meant only to supplement a well-rounded diet. Pregnant women should always ask their doctors if they should supplement their prenatal vitamins with any other vitamins that may help healthy growth for their babies, such as omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin D. Non-pregnant women should never rely on prenatal vitamins to get the nutrients they need. Instead, they should be sure to get a well-rounded diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish, and should take a multivitamin once a day. You can learn more about what essential supplements to take and how to take them here.
When it comes to having healthy hair and nails, be sure you’re getting enough B vitamins (especially biotin), calcium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and iron. A diet that includes eggs, dairy (like cottage cheese or Greek yogurt), seafood, whole wheat breads, meat (in moderation), plenty of fruits and vegetables and a daily multivitamin are your best bets for strong, healthy hair. And remember, always talk to your doctor before starting a new vitamin or supplement, no matter whether you’re pregnant or not.