Is it OK to take prenatal vitamins if I'm not pregnant, and I don't plan to become pregnant?

Answer From Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

You may be tempted to take prenatal vitamins because of unproven claims that they promote thicker hair and stronger nails. However, if you're not pregnant and not planning to become pregnant, high levels of certain nutrients over a long period of time may actually be more harmful than helpful.

Prenatal vitamins are formulated specifically for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, and women who are breast-feeding, with particular emphasis on:

  • Folic acid. To reduce the risk of having a child with neural tube defects, it's recommended that women who are trying to become pregnant get 400 to 800 micrograms (mcg) of folate or folic acid a day through diet and supplements. Other healthy adults — both men and women — need only 400 mcg a day. While uncommon, getting too much folic acid by taking supplements can mask the symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency and delay diagnosis and treatment.
  • Iron. During pregnancy, the recommended intake of iron is 27 milligrams (mg) a day. Women between the ages of 19 and 50 who aren't pregnant need only 18 mg a day, and women age 51 and older and all adult men need only 8 mg a day. Getting too much iron can be toxic because it can build up in your body, causing constipation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and, in severe cases, possibly death.
  • Calcium. Pregnant adult women and healthy men and women ages 19 to 50 all need 1,000 mg a day. Men and women age 51 and older need 1,000 mg a day and 1,200 mg a day, respectively. Because prenatal vitamins are intended to supplement calcium you get in your diet, they generally contain only 200 to 300 mg of calcium. If you rely on prenatal vitamins to meet your calcium needs, you likely won't get enough, raising your risk of osteoporosis and other health problems.

Generally, if you eat a healthy, balanced diet, taking multivitamins of any sort isn't necessary.

Aug. 27, 2020 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. Add flax to your baking
  2. Are you getting enough calcium?
  3. Calcium: Building better bones
  4. Calcium
  5. Calcium supplements for men
  6. Timing calcium supplements
  7. Can low vitamin D cause high blood pressure?
  8. Can vitamins help prevent a heart attack?
  9. Can zinc supplements help treat hidradenitis suppurativa?
  10. Dietary supplements: Skip megadoses
  11. Vitamin C and mood
  12. Eye vitamins: Can they prevent or treat glaucoma?
  13. Fiber supplements
  14. Flaxseed best when ground
  15. Flaxseed for breakfast?
  16. Ground flaxseed
  17. Heartburn medicines and B-12 deficiency
  18. Herbal supplements
  19. Integrative medicine: Different techniques, one goal
  20. Kratom and pregnancy: Not a safe mix
  21. Multivitamins for kids
  22. Nutrition: Does it come in a pill?
  23. Nutrition know-how: Why whole food counts
  24. Percent Daily Value
  25. Prebiotics, probiotics and your health
  26. Magnesium supplements
  27. Nutritional supplements
  28. Are dietary supplements right for you?
  29. Bromelain
  30. Calories and nutrients to fuel sports performance
  31. Curcumin
  32. Dietary supplements: What to know before you buy
  33. Is your dietary supplement safe?
  34. Melatonin
  35. Smart practices for healthy living
  36. Tips for staying supplement savvy
  37. What are omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil?
  38. What are probiotics?
  39. What are multivitamin/mineral dietary supplements?
  40. What is Boswellia?
  41. What is ginger?
  42. What is whey protein?
  43. Vitamin C megadoses
  44. Vitamin C: An essential nutrient
  45. Vitamin D and MS: Any connection?
  46. Vitamin D: Can it prevent Alzheimer's & dementia?
  47. Vitamin D deficiency
  48. Vitamin D: Essential with calcium
  49. Vitamin D for babies
  50. Vitamin D toxicity
  51. Vitamins for MS: Do supplements make a difference?
  52. What does a 'seal of approval' mean?
  53. Wheatgrass