- An OBGYN said she does not recommend buying luxury prenatals or male fertility supplements.
- Expensive prenatals contain the same ingredients as more affordable drugstore varieties.
- Don’t buy a prenatal vitamin that doesn’t contain folic acid, the doctor said.
People who are pregnant — or trying to get pregnant — are becoming easy targets for expensive, yet non-evidence-based, supplements, says one OBGYN.
Part of the ongoing wellness industry boom, supplement makers are expanding into fertility and pregnancy, targeting both pregnant women and men who want to boost their sperm count.
But many of these supplement sellers are not offering anything better than inexpensive drugstore products in pretty packaging, according to Dr. Shannon Clark, a double board certified OBGYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist.
To help pregnant people and those looking to get pregnant navigate this growing space, Clark spoke with Insider about which supplements she recommends not wasting your money on.
Don’t buy anything hawked to you by an unqualified social media personality
More and more social media personalities are selling non-evidence-based supplements to pregnant people, Clark said.
Clark, who herself has half a million TikTok followers, said many people selling prenatal supplements through social media have no legitimate medical credentials. Many have large followings, which makes people trust them, but often these influencers are not qualified to be giving medical advice.
Pregnant people and people trying to conceive are particularly vulnerable to buying these products on social media because they often want to do everything to make sure their baby is healthy.
“They are a group of individuals who just want to do what’s best,” Clark said. “So of course they’re ripe for the picking.”
Don’t purchase men’s fertility supplements, which are not evidence-backed
Over-the-counter fertility supplements for men are becoming more popular, but Clark says to stay away from these products due to their lack of evidence.
A 2020 study published in JAMA found men’s fertility supplements containing zinc and folic acid do nothing to improve sperm quality or count. And another study, led by a male fertility specialist at Cleveland Clinic, found the majority of ingredients found in these supplements have no data proving whether or not they work.
Even women’s over-the-counter fertility supplements are largely unregulated and not backed by evidenced, one analysis of 39 products suggested.
“None of this has evidence behind it,” Clark said regarding fertility supplements. “But they’re expensive and they make people a lot of money because who is more vulnerable than someone who’s having trouble conceiving?”
Save your money and skip the ‘designer’ prenatal vitamins
Once someone starts trying to conceive, Clark recommends they start prenatal vitamins.
Prenatal vitamins provide the body with extra nutrients for a growing fetus. Though a balanced diet is typically recommended to get in your daily nutrients, Clark said prenatal vitamins can work as a multivitamin to provide extra support for a pregnant person and a growing fetus.
Prenatals were typically a drugstore supplement aisle purchase, but pricey, subscription-based prenatal vitamins have cropped up on social media in the last few years, Insider previously reported. Goop, for instance, sells these luxury vitamins for $75 a month while the drugstore variety — even the vegan option — costs about $10 to $30 for a 2 to 3 month supply at a national pharmacy chain.
But Clark finds these “designer” prenatals unnecessary, and said they contain the same ingredients as more affordable options. Plus, expensive prenatals have not been tested against drugstore versions, meaning no data shows they are a superior option, Insider reported.
Instead, Clark recommends going to a drugstore and purchasing a prenatal vitamin that contains 400 mcg folic acid.
While folic acid gets a lot of attention, it’s not the only thing a growing fetus needs. Clark also recommends 200 to 300 mcg of both choline, an essential nutrient that can help with brain development, and DHA, a fatty acid that helps with fetal growth, which you may need to purchase separately.
Check which form of vitamin B your prenatal vitamin has, and put it down if it’s not folic acid
Studies repeatedly show folic acid can help keep the fetus healthy, but the nutrient can be confused with “folate” on prenatal supplement packaging, Clark said.
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9, an umbrella term for the different types of folate. Clark said many supplements now contain different types of folate like methylfolate or quatrefolic acid. Though folate is an important nutrient, the doctor said these do not have enough evidence backing up their use in a prenatal vitamin, and they can confuse people into thinking they are taking folic acid when they really aren’t.
Clark said influencers and some companies are using social media to sell “designer” prenatal vitamins without folic acid. “That’s a huge thing that I see on social media all the time,” she said.
Too much vitamin A can be harmful for pregnant people
Clark said while prenatal vitamins are important for fetal development, there’s no need to over do it.
Taking too many supplements will not make the baby or mother any healthier, the doctor explained. Supplement overuse can cause toxicity, leading to vomiting and hair loss.
Pregnant people should be wary of vitamin A in particular. The acne drug isotretinoin, called Accutane, is an extremely potent form of vitamin A that is known to cause birth defects.
“Once you become pregnant, you have to make sure that you’re not taking over the recommended serving of a prenatal vitamin or supplement because vitamin A, for example, is one where you can take too much and it can have adverse effects,” Clark said.
Clark recommends patients disclose all the prenatal and fertility vitamins and supplements they take to their doctor, so the supplements won’t interact with other medicines.