Updated April 2022
I often see women in online groups asking for prenatal vitamin recommendations. The responses almost never mention heavy metals, so I feel this is an issue I’d like to bring more attention to.
Also see my post on supplements in general.
Prenatal vitamins often contain high levels of lead and heavy metals, so I recommend making this an important consideration when choosing which to use. I think the optimal thing for all people would be getting all nutrients from food, but with soil depleted, it’s hard. And, many women struggle with morning sickness or food aversions during pregnancy.
According to this scientific paper: “Cumulative intake of prenatal supplement over many months may constitute a significant source of toxic element exposure to the mother and offspring. With several samples exceeding known standards for gestational toxic element exposure, guidelines for routine monitoring and reporting are required. In keeping with recommendations from the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology, industry regulation would be welcomed to protect expectant mothers and their vulnerable offspring.”
As far as “standards,” lead has to be below 2 parts per million (ppm) if they are GMP or NSF certified (which most companies are), which may sound low but that equates to 2000 parts per billion, which is very high. This isn’t an apples to apples comparison, but just to illustrate standards measured in ppb, Water is considered toxic for children (by the American Academy of Pediatrics) at levels that exceed 1 ppb. Bottled water is considered illegal for Lead content if it has more than 5 ppb. Tap water is considered to be unsafe for human consumption if it exceeds the (relatively high / not protective of human health) federal standard of 15 ppb. The limit in dried fruit is 100 ppb.
One brand told me that to adhere to Prop 65, they need to remain below the following levels per serving:
Arsenic (As) <2.0 ppm
Cadmium (Cd) <0.82 ppm
Lead (Pb) <0.1 ppm (100 ppb)
Mercury (Hg) <0.6 ppm
For the numbers I got, I often converted to ppb (note than some are mcg) but I did not always do the math to calculate the exact weight of lead per dose, which would be more accurate (if someone wants to help do that it would be amazing). But ppb in its own is still valuable. It’s possible that some levels are well below the generic “less than” numbers, but because they tested or presented their data that way, we can’t know for sure. Also, if they don’t test and share for each batch, these numbers are just snapshots in time, and it’s possible they only share reports that are low, and we can’t know exactly what is in the bottle we buy.
Also look at any additional ingredients besides the vitamins to see if you are comfortable with them. It is likely a good idea to rotate using two or more brands.
For how to convert other units (ppm, mcg, etc.), see my supplement post linked at the top.
#MyTopPicks for Prenatals With Low Heavy Metals:
-Needed brand prenatals (see several kinds below). This brand provides COA stated as 3rd party (though the name of the company and all info at top and bottom of page is blacked out for privacy). This company also makes a pre/probiotic, collagen powder, electrolyte powder, sleep aid, and vegan omega 3 (see section further below). I currently use this brand.
I make a big deal about not being an affiliate for specific products so that I remain unbiased, but for this brand, they have a program that allowed me to donate all commissions to women’s health education (it goes directly to them; no money passes through me). AND, you get a discount!
Use code CGTF for 20% off first orders or first 3 months subscription
CGTF100 for $100 total off the first three months of the Complete Plan ($33.33 off months 1, 2, 3)
Needed prenatal vitamin capsules (February 2022) are <.0025 mcg lead per serving (8 capsules). The weight of one dose is 7g.
Needed Prenatal Essentials: .076 mcg. Lead per serving (December 2021).
Needed prenatal multi powder: 28 ppb (.370 mcg) for the whole dose (conversion is: divide the total lead mcg by the weight of the dose in grams (13.2 g). So .370 divided by 13.2 (weight of one dose) is .028 ug (which is the same as PPM). Then you move the decimal three places to the right to get ppb. So it’s 28 ppb.). This is low. I saw another COA from August 2021 that was .228 mcg for the whole dose, which is even lower.
-Seeking Health: The lowest I’ve seen is .10 ug in 2020 for the whole dose. This is very low. I have started taking their optimal prenatal which in February 2021 is .14 mcg per serving. In February 2022 I saw data (not an official coa) from them that listed .20 ug per serving. They are quick to respond with any coa you ask for, although they aren’t third party documents. I have used this brand and like it.
-Smartypants: It is very comforting that this brand posts testing results for each lot (although not a third party coa). Also, their numbers reflect the amount of metals for the entire dose. I haven’t looked at every batch they have posted for prenatals, but there is a big range from about 20-80ppb or .100-.120 mcg for each dose. To ensure you get a lot on the lower end, I recommend going to a store and checking the lot numbers online before you buy. Or if you have to mail order, do it with a company that accepts returns. They also use methylfolate, which is the preferred form (any brand that says folate is folic acid). I have taken the organic gummies; however recently I have been avoiding citric acid which is an ingredient. They do make capsules but they aren’t organic and contain rice ingredients. I recommend this brand for other vitamins for kids and adults as well. Here is where to look up the testing results. Amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3rM1alN
-Growbaby (packaged by Metagenics) November 2020: .068 mcg lead per serving, or 40 ppb. These come in a packet with some other types of vitamins. The lead content is for the prenatals only. The document was created internally, not third-party, and might be strange that the analysis was from 2020 but the document was only signed this year.
-Pure Synergy PureNatal vitamins (not a third party coa): Lead (Pb) 0.042 ppm (42ppb), Arsenic (As) 0.057 ppm, Cadmium (Cd) 0.097 ppm, Mercury (Hg) <0.03 ppm.
Prenatals That I Personally Wouldn’t Use:
-Raise them Well: .327 mcg in two capsules but possibly .181 depending which document. Those are both less than prop 65. But it has glutathione for detoxing, and it’s my understanding that women should not try to do anything extra to detox while pregnant or nursing. I don’t know a ton about glutathione while pregnant or nursing though.
-Pure Encapsulations: 40 ppb. I hear the last number they shared before that they shared was 20 ppb which is low! However, they contain folic acid. Amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3rPA2C7)
-Emerald: 176 ppb (converted from ppm) for the whole dose in Sept 2019. I’d prefer lower.
-Naturelo update Oct. 2020: I saw two COAs that looked identical including the date, except for the lead level… suggesting that it was edited. One of the levels was over 400 ppb. Then, they said they no longer share COA. In the past I’ve seen Naturelo recommended as the best choice overall for a prenatal, but their coa only showed “less than 100ppb” and I would prefer lower. It could be that they aren’t testing to a lower threshold, but they do show that their fish oil is 6ppb so I’m suspicious. Dose is 3 capsules and the heavy metals amount is for the entire omegas dose, which is good (would still be great if it were lower though). Naturelo doesn’t share metals info for each lot though.
-Designs for Heath: .44 ug per 8 capsules. This is close to prop 65 limit.
-Megafood: They no longer share COA. In the past, two of their products (Baby and Me and Baby and Me 2) only showed that they were under under prop 65 limits. The third kind stated “less than 10 mcg/day” (which could be astronomical… keep in mind that the Prop 65 limit is .5 mcg/day). Be sure to check the serving size on any COA, because it’s possible that the full serving size has more than the daily limit.
-I hear NutriGold has a food based prenatal and they post COAs for all of their products, but I haven’t looked deeply into it. Lead looked a bit high around 270 ppb when I looked. They had many certifications for other aspects though.
-Full Circle: 0.67 ug/m per capsule; you would multiply that by the full dose which is 8 capsules. That equals about .5 ug which is the prop 65 limit.
-Thorne: ”less than 1000” ppb! Also I’ll add that I’ve heard so many shady things about this company, I do not trust them. There was independent testing for heavy metals in their products and most came back high.
-Mary Ruth Organics: Less than 1 mcg for the whole dose. But 1mcg would be double prop65.
As you can see, it is important to ask for The heavy metals analysis (and look closely at serving sizes) as some of these were high!
Brands That Do Not Share Heavy Metals Information With Consumers:
Be warned that many of them claim to have third party testing but won’t disclose the results. Therefore, it’s meaningless.
-Garden of life
-Designs for Health
-Metagenics say they will share COA with a practitioner, but I’ve heard even then it is hard.
-I can’t remember if New Chapter shares coa, But I didn’t even ask for the prenatal because it contains folic acid.
-Pink Stork gave a flaky excuse for why they can’t provide COA at this time. I’ll update if they ever send any.
Omega 3/ Fish Oil/ DHA:
-I recommend Nordic naturals. They test each lot and have the results on their website. Some are as low as 1 ppb. I normally do not eat fish, but DHA is important in pregnancy.
-Needed vegan Omega 3 capsules: 50 ppb (January 2022). If you find any other a vegan omegas/ dha with low heavy metals, and clean ingredients (no carrageenan, etc) let me know because I looked and didn’t find any besides this one ! See discount code above.
For any brands not listed here, I recommend asking them to share their Certificate of Analysis with heavy metals data. Every product has one but not every company will share. Beware, they will try to use fluffy language to make you feel good about their product, but numbers speak the loudest. I tell companies I refuse to buy supplements unless they are transparent about what is in them.
-Hiya: In March 2022 when I asked for a COA, I got one from July 2021 that was .035 mg/kg (35 ppb). I’ve also seen COA from September 2020 at 55 ppb, and another that listed .06 ug; which is about 10 times lower than prop 65. Those all looked like a true COA reports. At some point I saw another document that some say was somewhat questionable, but I think that is because instead of listing an exact level of lead, it said it passed under a general threshold (Prop 65). That is the type of report they tried to send me most recently but after some clarifying back and forth what I was asking for, they gave me one with specifics listed above. This is what I currently use for my kids. They do contain rice, which can be risky for arsenic, but the arsenic levels shown in test results don’t appear to be worrisome.
-Smartypants (this brand was already discussed above): This brand lists heavy metals content on their website for each batch. For all the levels I’ve seen for kids vitamins, they were low heavy metals. In March 2022, per serving: Toddler formula was .0906 mcg lead. The Kids Plus Fiber was .06 mcg. However, I don’t like that they contain Citric acid, natural flavors, and sunflower oil, so I am trying out Hiya now.
-Raise Them Well: 181 ppb
-Llama: It’s less than 500 ppb lead (We don’t know how much less). They also make an adult multi; I’m not sure if the test results would be more specific for that, but I assume not.
Note about the PureMarket ratings for pesticides and plasticizers (endocrine disrupters such as BPA):
PureMarket tested Nordic Naturals again and changed their rating to A+. It previously had a lower rating because it, and all fish based omegas they tested, were found to have high levels of plasticizers.
This is cut and pasted from Another group: “I had emailed them to communicate shock and disappointment when all this happened and they basically were like, we test for this already, these findings are in error, which I found hard to believe and went ahead and switched to a different brand for the interim. But they emailed me again a few days ago with a transcript of an email from Pure Market, saying that they had had their lab test 3 more samples and all had been NONDETECT for BPA. (Specifically said BPA which I was a little hung up on because the data on the Pure Market website had said just “plasticizers”, so were there other plasticizers that had been present?…) and that they were going back to recheck the original sample but would be updating Nordic Naturals’ ratings either way, since now multiple products had tested completely fine. And, voila! 🥳 I am going to email back to ask what the findings were on the original sample, just out of morbid curiosity.”
The whole thing seems a bit sketchy, but I’m glad to see that at least with the new testing, Nordic Naturals tested great. I hope that one good result from all the hullabaloo is that supplement companies will realize that consumers care about this kind of testing, and that more of it is done in a way we can trust.
PureMarket is a for-profit business that sells supplements, so I’m not sure about their motives for why they had the testing done (although they used a third party that supposedly is legit). Smartypants tested well, I think it had some pesticides, but note they didn’t test the organic version.