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How To Choose Good Quality Supplementation And Herbal Medicines

Preparing for a healthy conception is paramount and nutritional supplementation can play a big role in this.

So with the amount of options available in the market today, how do you choose? Well, simply: You don’t! Let me explain.
Vitamin supplements and health food supplements is a choice that hopefully will be made for you by a competent and qualified naturopathic practitioner with experience in treating couples in your situation.

Sometimes the temptation to self-prescribe is overwhelming, particularly when there is some much over the counter (OTC) nutrients/supplementation marketing, especially for fertility and pregnancy products. The old saying ‘a little information is dangerous’ rings true in this situation because supplement advertising often does not leave room for all the information you need to make the best choices for you and your family. Resist the temptations to self prescribe because:

  1. The therapeutic effectiveness of most OTC supplements and herbs are often greatly diluted because they must be safe for anyone to pick up off the shelf and practically overdose on, without major concerns. This is certainly the case for many of the OTC products I have reviewed over the years;
  2. Regulatory labels on nutritional products often carry particular safety warnings (depending on the nutrient).  However, if adhered to, they could cause you to take an incorrect dose for fertility optimisation, and without your practitioner’s advice, you may not even know it. A good example of this is Vitamin A, which is essential for fertility, embryonic development, growth, proper immune function, and vision. In most countries, labels are required to have a warning to say that during pregnancy any doses above 2,500IU is dangerous and should not be taken. However, this is not the case, as was published in a report titled ‘Safe vitamin A dosage during pregnancy and lactation’ by The World Health Organisation in 1998 (with no further updates at the time of this publication). This report states not only is it safe, but recommended, that pregnant women consume vitamin A during pregnancy however, dosages should not exceed 10,000IU (or 3,000 mcg retinol equivalent) daily (if using supplements). It is likely that without the help of a competent naturopathic practitioner you and your family would not be aware of this information;
  3. You may not fully understand the interactions between herbs, nutrients and any other medications you may be taking;
  4. Every stage of your fertility has different nutritional requirements;
  5. Once a pregnancy occurs, each trimester also has changing nutrient requirements you may be unaware about;
  6. Generally speaking, the highest quality and appropriate dosages in less tablets or capsules are found in products made for
    practitioner only dispensing. You cannot buy these at a supermarket;
  7. Higher nutrient dosages also mean more value for your money, because you don’t have to take as many tablets/capsules for the same effect;
  8. When using practitioner only prescription natural medicines, your supplementation regime can be carefully individualised for your specific needs, which also enables greater treatment flexibility.

Supplement Powders and Liquids vs. Tablets

Despite the convenience of tablets, powders and liquids are more bio-available, which means they are more easily absorbed by the body. Liquids and powders contain less binding and coating agents than tablets, and offer much greater flexibility in dose adjustment; however, for treatment consistency, each dose must be dispensed carefully and accurately by using a proper measuring cup or teaspoon.

Supplementation During Pregnancy

herbal supplementation for pregnancy

It is common to hear that in pregnancy you should eat a lot  because you are eating for two! Well this is actually incorrect. Your calorie intake during pregnancy only requires about a 15% increase. However, your nutrient requirements literally double!

So, continuing an excellent supplementation  regime during pregnancy is essential,  and just as important as it was during your preconception preparation. Throughout pregnancy, specific nutrient requirements increase even further as the pregnancy progresses.

My patients often tell me that their doctor, obstetrician, physiotherapist, pharmacist, neighbour, mother, sister and/or a host of strangers said they should not be taking supplements, or the doses, they have been taking during pregnancy because it could be dangerous for the baby. This has understandably scared some of my patients into stopping everything, until I explain that there is a whole body of scientific evidence, too overwhelming to be denied, showing that not only are vitamins and minerals safe during pregnancy, but they are absolutely essential at therapeutic doses.

Therefore, if your doctor, nurse or obstetrician says you should not be taking supplements, or you should only be taking negligible amounts, plain and simple: find a new doctor!  Someone like that is probably not up to date in a lot of other areas that may impact on your wellbeing and that of your family. The approach when dealing with these people is simple: nod, agree and continue doing what you know is best—don’t enter into a debate, you will get tired. And stress during pregnancy is not good for you or the baby.

However, this is yet another reason why you should never self prescribe.  If you are not sure about what you are taking, you are likely to just stop and that is not in the best interest of your fertility (during preconception) or your baby. However, a competent integrative medicine or naturopathic practitioner can substantiate everything he or she is doing with their experience, their results and scientific evidence. And, because they are an objective person (not caught up in the emotion of it all, as you naturally are, after all you are having a baby!), they are going to clear-headed when it comes to helping you make the right decisions.

This is especially true, if you hit any ‘bumps on the road’, and do have trouble with supplementation.

Your practitioner will be the best person to suggest different ways of getting your nutrients either by changing products, delivery methods, dosages and so on.

In addition, don’t be fooled by supplement advertisements! Although this has been previously discussed, it is important to reinforce that just because the label has a picture of a beautiful pregnant woman and says it is for pregnancy and lactation, if it is being sold over the counter, the chances are excellent that the doses will be too small for optimum nutrient intake in pregnancy. This is particularly true if the claims say that one tablet will cover all your requirements.

This is IMPOSSIBLE! One tablet (meant for human consumption, not horses) is simply not large enough to give you all the nutrients your baby requires for growth and development. Take calcium for example. A calcium tablet is the size it is because that is the amount of physical space required to fit in a large enough dose. During pregnancy you need around about 1200mg of calcium daily and for that you will possibly need to take a couple of calcium tablets. So, if you see a ‘one tablet a day’ natal complex —it sounds too good to be true, because it is.

Alternative supplementationRemember, during pregnancy the baby takes all the nutrients and the mother gets what is left over (if there is anything). Giving birth causes a major depletion of all the mother’s nutrient stores (placenta and baby included), very quickly. Then, when breastfeeding begins, the mother gets all the nutrients and the baby gets what is left over (if there is anything) via the breast milk.

Hence the importance of continued supplementation throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding to provide mother and baby with all the important nutrients they both require. Remember, babies grow and develop extremely quickly in the early days. Without proper nutritional supplements (which do not, by any means, replace an EXCELLENT diet) development may be impaired.

Considering all the reasons outline above, I’m sure you can see why it is so essential to continue on a good quality supplementation regime as recommended by your practitioner during your pregnancy, it’s an insurance policy for the healthy development of both mother and baby.

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About Gabriela Rosa MScM, ND

We help couples struggling with fertility difficulties and recurrent miscarriages for over 2 years take home healthy babies, even when other treatments have failed. The Fertility Challenge online event is FREE and works to redefine fertility and empower couples through a proven, interactive and transformational 12-day journey on their path to parenthood. We have now successfully educated and inspired over 100,000 people in 100+ countries toward their dream of becoming a parent. Click Here to Register Today.