Motivation for supplementation: What drives supplement use in pregnancy?

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

iStock / FtLaudGirl
iStock / FtLaudGirl
Supplementation provides ‘insurance’ against inadequate intakes from food, and is considered by many women as an ‘easier more reliable’ source of nutrients, a new focus group study suggests.

The findings of the focus group study come after a team of Australian researchers set out to boost their understanding of what motivates the use of vitamin and mineral supplement use during pregnancy.

Writing in the journal Midwifery​, the team reported that of the 40 women who took part in the ten focus group discussions and two in-depth interviews all, except one, used dietary supplements during pregnancy.

“Most women took supplements to achieve peace of mind knowing that nutrient requirements were ‘definitely’ being met,”​ said the team – led by Lenka Malek from The University of Adelaide, Australia.

“Other common factors motivating supplement use were the beliefs that supplementation: benefits maternal and foetal health; corrects known nutritional deficiencies; and is a more efficient method of obtaining required nutrients relative to food,”​ they added.

Maternal motivation

As a result of the in-depth interviews and discussions, the team found that women believe supplements are an easier and more reliable source of nutrients than food intake alone.

“A key finding of this study is that use of dietary supplements, rather than food intake alone, provides pregnant women with greater confidence that they are meeting their nutritional requirements for pregnancy,”​ said the team.

They added that in most cases women had little knowledge of how to ensure an adequate nutrient intake from foods alone during pregnancy and turned to supplementation ‘as an insurance policy.’

“We also found that women often considered supplementation to be an easier method of improving nutritional intake than dietary change,”​ Malek and colleagues added.

“Other key drivers of supplement use were identified,”​ they added. “These drivers include distrust in the food supply, which led some women to question the nutritional content of their food; and the marketing/advertising of pregnancy supplements, which elicited feelings of fear and guilt among women and contributed to the perception that supplementation is necessary throughout pregnancy.”

The Australian team said more studies are needed in larger and more representative samples to validate their findings and to test the effectiveness of information and intervention strategies which target appropriate supplement use during pregnancy.

Supplement risks?

Earlier this week, NutraIngredients also reported on a Dutch study​ claiming that while the use of dietary supplements gaining popularity in pregnant women, current regulations do not do enough to take longer-term safety and health considerations for the child.

For example, they suggested that while the advantages of dietary supplementation with folic acid during pregnancy have been established, the effects of many other supplements have not been confirmed.

The team noted that while both European and U.S. laws on dietary supplements require a product to be safe for the direct consumer (in this case the mother), the long-term health effects for a child are not taken into account – warning that epigenetic foetal programming can potentially have life-long implications for health.

 “With the maternal diet affecting the foetal genome through developmental programming, the consequences of supplementing should not be underestimated,” the Dutch authors said.

“We do not suggest that consuming dietary supplements endanger the health of the foetus, yet recognise the current lack of knowledge on the long-term health effects of the maternal diet, and more specifically supplements, on offspring.”

Source: Midwifery
Volume 57, February 2018, Pages 59-68, doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2017.11.004
“Understanding motivations for dietary supplementation during pregnancy: A focus group study”
Author: Lenka Malek, et al

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