Pharmacies are promoting pregnancy multivitamins with overblown claims, a Consumer NZ mystery shop has found.
Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin said staff at 16 of 20 stores visited attempted to upsell a mystery shopper at least one multivitamin product that was more expensive than the plain folic acid requested.
The Ministry of Health advises women planning a pregnancy to take a folic acid supplement, and pregnant women an iodine supplement as well. No other vitamins or minerals are routinely recommended.
Despite this, Consumer NZ’s shopper was frequently recommended multivitamin supplements by pharmacy staff. These products included Elevit and Blackmores Conceive Well Gold which, on a daily basis, are at least seven times more expensive than plain folic acid.
There is little evidence spending extra money on a pregnancy multivitamin compared with plain folic acid and iodine improves a woman’s health or that of her baby. “Would-be mums would be better off using that money to buy healthy foods,” Ms Chetwin said.
Some women taking pregnancy multivitamins experience uncomfortable side effects. “Most products contain iron, even though obstetricians say it’s only necessary for women with anaemia. Women with healthy levels of the mineral unnecessarily risk suffering pain, constipation and vomiting,” Ms Chetwin said.
“Pharmacy staff should base their advice to customers on the best available science, particularly when they recommend a more expensive product,” she said.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ guidelines state a well-balanced diet – alongside folic acid and iodine tablets – is the best way for the average woman to meet her body’s nutritional needs in pregnancy, unless her doctor recommends otherwise.
Consumer NZ also conducted a product survey of supplements marketed to would-be mums. Despite the Ministry of Health advising an 800µg per day dose of folic acid, some products contained just 300µg.
For the full report, check consumer.org.nz or the March edition of Consumer magazine.