Science and Tech


Report shows misrepresentation on labels for prenatal vitamins

Findings showed 11 of the 12 prenatal supplement products had at least one of the nutrients that did not match the amount on the label.
Posted at 8:33 PM, Jan 17, 2024

A report from the Government Accountability Office finds the nutrient amounts in tested prenatal supplements did not match the amount listed on the label, highlighting the issue that supplements are not regulated the same way that medications are.

"It is important to note that when you take supplements, or vitamins as a pregnant person, you need to be mindful of not taking too much of something because some of these vitamins, it can build up in your body and cause harm to your baby or babies," said Dr. Melissa Simon, an OBGYN with Northwestern Medicine.

Scientists looked at 12 prenatal supplements testing nutrient amounts, as well as looking for traces of the heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.  

They found trace amounts of lead and cadmium in about half of the prenatal supplements. The amounts were not high enough to cause health harm, according to FDA metrics.

The lab also tested for the amounts folic acid, iodine, iron and vitamins A, C and E. Findings showed 11 of the 12 prenatal supplement products had at least one of the nutrients that did not match the amount that was stated on the label.

Simon says patients shouldn't be just throwing out their supplements. She is also concerned if someone was to take more of a supplement if they're worried they're not getting nutrients.

"The GAO report did not find any of the 12 supplements that they tested to have too high of a vitamin A level. But vitamin A in particular, because it's fat-soluble — vitamins A, D and K, are fat-soluble and can actually cause birth defects in high doses," said Simon. "It is really important also to have the appropriate amount of folic acid, because folic acid is one of those things that's well-studied, with respect to the neural tube defects." 

The Government Accountability Office recommended Congress should give the ability to the FDA to have more oversight in supplement regulation. The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade organization representing supplement companies, issued at statement about the report, calling the findings alarmist.

"This report strikes an unnecessarily alarmist note when the vast majority of these supplements are not only safe, but vital to the health of mothers and their unborn babies," said CRN’s Andrea Wong, senior vice president at Scientific and Regulatory Affairs. "The worst possible outcome would be for women to read this report and decide not to take prenatal supplements, when research shows the critical benefits these nutrients provide in the form of supplementation."

Bottom line is, if you are someone who is either trying to get pregnant or you are pregnant and you are taking  prenatal supplements, it's something to be really mindful of and to continue to discuss with your doctor.

How are dietary supplements regulated?
variety of dietary supplements

How are dietary supplements regulated?

The FDA says about 4,000 dietary supplement products existed in the mid-1990s. Today that number has ballooned to more than 95,000.