Chances are you've heard your friends talk about how when they took daily prenatal vitamins while not pregnant " their hair looked super healthy, their skin was luminous and their nails were stronger than ever. And we're pretty sure, they recommended you consider taking them (whether or not you're actually pregnant). It's just vitamins, what's the harm in that, right? To get an expert opinion, we tapped Urogynocologist, Dr. Maria Canter, MD, FPMRS, FACOG, MSC for her thoughts on taking prenatals when you're not actually pregnant or trying.
What are prenatal vitamins?
First things first, what are prenatal vitamins actually for? Dr. Canter says, "Women who are expecting are advised to take prenatal vitamins to ensure they are receiving enough iron, vitamins and folic acid to protect them and their babies from developing certain long-term conditions." Every vitamin in the prenatal pills are geared specifically for a pregnant woman. "Folic acid is also important in preventing neural tube defects in the brain, spine and spinal cord of the baby. These issues can occur within the first month of pregnancy, even before a woman knows she is pregnant. If a pregnant woman is not consuming enough iron, she cannot make enough of the cells that deliver oxygen to the baby to give a good birth weight and overall good health. Also, low iron gives the mother fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath and other symptoms," explains Dr. Canter.
What are the benefits of prenatal vitamins while not pregnant?
While you might not be pregnant right now, incorporating prenatals into your daily routine would be a good idea if you plan to become pregnant in the near future. "Women who are not pregnant but are planning a pregnancy, or are open to the possibility of becoming pregnant, should take prenatal vitamins," says Dr. Canter. "The reason is that open neural tube defects (defects in the brain spine and spinal cord) in newborns " which can occur before a woman even knows she is pregnant "can be prevented by taking prenatal vitamins which contain folic acid. Plus, the additional nutrients in the prenatal vitamins provide additional benefits to mother and baby."
While this all sounds great for the expectant mother, Dr. Canter debunks the myth that prenatals actually give you glowing skin or longer, stronger hair and nails. "There is no evidence that prenatal vitamins do anything for hair, skin and nails." She also adds, "If you are not expecting, and not planning a future pregnancy, the higher doses of certain vitamins and minerals in the prenatal pill could cause harm if used over a long period of time. Long term use of prenatal vitamins, when not expecting, lactating or planning a future pregnancy, can cause a strain to the liver, mask other medical conditions and cause new chronic conditions."
So why is it that your friends experienced a beauty boost when they took their daily dose of prenatals. It actually had nothing to do with the vitamins and everything to do with the actual pregnancy. When a woman is pregnant, she will experience a surge in estrogen levels and altered hormones, which can contribute to changes in hair, skin and nails. Additionally, women tend to shed less hair during pregnancy, which makes them think their hair is thicker and longer, but the truth is most women notice they lose that excess hair after the baby is born.
While prenatal vitamins won't be your quick fix for thicker hair and healthier-looking skin, there are other supplement options out there that won't harm your body.