You Asked: Should I Take Prenatal Vitamins Even If I'm Not Pregnant?

The old wives' tale says prenatal vitamins will make your hair and nails beautiful. But should you really take them? Let's bust some myths.
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Alle
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The old wives' tale says prenatal vitamins will make your hair and nails beautiful. But should you really take them? Let's bust some myths.

I hope this isn’t creepy but I’M SO JEALOUS OF YOUR HAIR. It’s so thick and pretty! My hair is really fine and thin (I’m a natural blonde if that helps) and my nails aren’t very strong. I hear a lot about how prenatal vitamins make your hair thicker and your nails stronger. Should I be taking a prenatal vitamin for my hair and nails, even if I’m not pregnant and not planning on it anytime soon? --A.S.

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So I have consulted A LOT of sources for this, but before I report on what I have found, I want to say this right off the bat: I am not a medical professional. I have done my very best to research this subject, but PLEASE talk to your doctor for advice on how supplements will work specifically for you. OK? OK.

Like you, and probably a lot of other people, I have heard the “take prenatal vitamins for nice hair and nails” chestnut so many times that I just sort of accepted that it was something that worked, and something that people could do if they wanted. I mean, they’re prenatal vitamins. It’s not like they’d tell pregnant (or soon to be pregnant) women to take something that would hurt them, right?

Turns out I was wrong.

But let’s split this question up, because there are two main parts that I want to address. The first is,“Will a prenatal vitamin make my hair and nails nicer?”

The answer: probably not. 

There is zero scientific evidence that prenatal vitamins will improve the strength of your hair or nails. They also won’t make your hair grow faster. Oh, there’s heaps of anecdotal evidence, sure--but nothing that can be proven (or disproven). So right off the bat, you should be skeptical of any claims about amazing hair or nails CAUSED by taking a prenatal vitamin.

I’m going to speculate a little here and say that one of the reasons people draw the prenatal vitamins = pretty hair/nails connection is because during pregnancy, increased levels of estrogen in the body keep your hair in the “growing” phase, so less of it falls out. Hence the reason that so many pregnant women have extra-thick, luxurious hair; the hair itself hasn’t changed, it’s just not coming out as much. But if you don’t know that (and I only know because one of my friends who has had two kids told me), it’s totally reasonable to give credit for your beautiful hair to the vitamins you’re taking.

This is your timely reminder that correlation doesn’t imply causation.

To keep your hair and nails nice and strong, you have to treat them well, ensure they don’t break and feed them the stuff that they need to stay healthy. If you aren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals from your diet, you should talk to your doctor about supplementing with a plain ol’ multivitamin. When your body gets everything it needs, you’ll see an improvement in the condition of your hair, nails and skin. Me, I take one multivitamin (specially formulated for young women) and two calciums every day, because I don’t get much calcium from my diet and osteoporosis runs in my family.

Now, let’s dig into the second part: Should I take a pre-natal vitamin if I’m not pregnant or planning to become pregnant?

The answer is, no. No, no, no.

From everything I’ve read (including stuff from the Mayo Clinic), if you’re a healthy adult, taking pre-natal vitamins PROBABLY won’t do you any harm. But at best, they won’t benefit you much. At worst, they may screw up some things with your body.

Here are the reasons why you should not take prenatals if you’re not, y’know, prenatal:

Prenatal vitamins can seriously interact with medications.This can happen with many herbs and supplements, but prenatals seem to be especially disruptive. Check with your doctor before you start taking ANYTHING in addition to your prescriptions.

Prenatal vitamins don’t contain a lot of calcium,usually about 2-300 milligrams. Healthy adult men and women (ages 19-50) need 1000mg a day. Prenatals are designed to supplement, not replace, calcium sources in your diet. So if you’re taking them, thinking “Hey, this is basically a multivitamin and now I don’t have to worry about getting enough calcium because it’s all in here!” you are mistaken.

Prenatal vitamins have LOTS of folic acid,way more than you need. Pregnant women need 600 micrograms of folic acid per day to lessen the risk of their baby developing a bunch of very serious birth defects. Healthy, non-pregnant women only need 400mcg. Getting extra probably won’t hurt you, but it’s not exactly going to benefit you, either. And sometimes, too much folic acid can cover up a serious b12 deficiency, which is something that should be treated right away.

Prenatal vitamins have extra iron in them, way more than you need if you’re not cooking a baby, and too much iron is BAD TIMES. When you’re pregnant, you need around 27 milligrams a day to combat anemia--this is how much is in your average prenatal. Non-pregnant adult women and men only need 18mg, and this drops to 8 when you’re in your fifties. Getting too much iron is really bad--it’s happened to me, and oh my god IT SUUUUUCKS. It can build up in your body, you feel nauseated, you can get constipated and it stresses out many of your major internal organs. Check out the Iron Disorder Institute for a long list of the reasons why excess iron is not something you want.

So what you should take away from all of this is: Pregnant women have different vitamin/mineral needs, and prenatal vitamins are made specifically to address those needs. If you’re not pregnant, or looking to become pregnant, you should take a normal multivitamin that is formulated for your age. 

Getting all the vitamins that you need is a good way to keep your hair and nails healthy, but please check with a medical professional for specific-to-you guidance.

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Jeez, I’m all about doctors today! To show you guys that I take my own advice, I called MY doctor to see what she’d tell me about taking prenatal vitamins. I’ve known Dr. Adams for a long time, and she is pretty used to me, which will explain the informal nature of the conversation that follows:

“If I told you that I wanted to start taking prenatal vitamins, what would you say?” I asked.

Dr. Adams was quiet. “I’d ask if you were pregnant.”

“I’m not, but I’ve heard that it makes your hair and nails really nice.”

“Then I would say that’s a bad reason and you shouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because you have [minor medical condition] and getting too much iron could potentially make that a lot worse or cause [other related conditions]. I’m looking at your file, and you don’t handle additional iron supplements well, so taking a prenatal isn’t a good idea unless you’re considering having a baby. ARE you?”

“No.”

“OK. My answer is no. What’s going on with your hair?”

“Nothing. I mean, it’s falling out. But that’s from stress.”

“Is there any chance of your stress level going down?”

“No.”

“Are you still taking a multivitamin?”

“Yep.”

“How much b12 does it have in it?”

*Alle runs to check the bottle*

“It says 100% of my recommended daily allowance.”

“Good. B vitamins are very important for hair health and growth. Are you still eating healthfully?”

“Did you just say ‘healthfully’? Is that even a word?”

“It is, because I’m the doctor and I said it.”

“Then yes, I am eating HEALTHFULLY.”

“Good.”

“I can’t wait to tell the internet about this.”

*Dr. Adams sighs in a resigned fashion*

So there you have it! Alle should absolutely not take prenatal vitamins, because her (blank) will probably (blank) and she’ll (blank), which she would very much like to avoid. For healthy hair and nails, stick to a regular multivitamin--NOT a prenatal--that is formulated for your age, and make sure it has enough B vitamins in it.

I hope this was helpful! Remember, if you have a question for me, post it in the comments or holler at me on Twitter!