Lead, Arsenic, and Other Heavy Metals in Prenatal Vitamins
High levels of lead and other toxic elements (such as mercury, arsenic, and cadmium) are known to cause reproductive harm or cancer. So why are they in some prenatal vitamins? Let’s dive in.
By Halle Tecco, MBA, MPH
Limiting exposure to toxic elements is important, especially when pregnant. The federal government (and more recently the state of California) has set guidelines and limits for the presence of lead and other toxic elements, but does your prenatal make the cut? In this guide, we’ll dive into safety guidelines for heavy metals in prenatal vitamins.
Is there lead in prenatal vitamins?
Unfortunately, some prenatal vitamins do contain lead. Prenatal vitamins contain minerals like calcium and magnesium; but in nature, these helpful minerals are found mixed in the earth and must be processed to remove heavy metals. The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) has set federal limits for lead in supplements (more on this below)—but not all supplements fall under the limit.
When the FDA looked into the levels of lead in supplements marketed towards children or pregnant women, they found that all 75 prenatal vitamins contained some amount of lead, and one brand had nearly 9 mcg per serving (the USP limit is 5 mcg/day). A 2018 study found that toxic elements, including lead, are found in prenatal vitamins with lead at unacceptable levels in more than half of the products tested.
High levels of lead are dangerous for babies and mothers
According to the CDC, if a woman has been exposed to lead over a long time or has had high levels of lead in her blood in the past, the lead stored in her bones can be released into the blood during pregnancy and expose the baby.
Elevated lead levels of lead can:
- Increase risk for miscarriage.
- Cause the baby to be born too early or too small.
- Hurt the baby’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system.
- Cause the child to have learning or behavior problems.
Pregnant and lactating women with a current or past high blood lead levels should talk to their doctor about recommendations regarding calcium, vitamin D, and/or iron supplementation, which are known to decrease lead absorption.
Other dangerous heavy metals that should be avoided
Other than led, toxic heavy metals that should be on your radar include arsenic, cadmium, and mercury:
- Arsenic is a well documented human carcinogen affecting numerous organs
- Cadmium is also classified as a human carcinogen and has toxic effects on the kidney, the skeletal system, and the respiratory system
- Mercury, even small amounts, may cause serious health problems and is a threat to pregnant women and their babies
It’s impossible to completely avoid these heavy metals, but there are steps you can take to make sure you aren’t over exposed.
Testing prenatals for toxic elements
The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) sets the federal limits for lead and other toxic elements (such as mercury, arsenic, and cadmium) known to cause reproductive harm or cancer. The USP sets two limits: one that is acceptable for an ingredient and one for daily intake. But even if a product passes federal guidelines, it may not pass the even stricter guidelines set by the state of California in Proposition 65.
Products sold in the State of California must comply with Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. This proposition states that any product, including prenatal vitamins and supplements, must test for and list any ingredients that contain carcinogens or reproductive toxicants. If a product does knowingly contain a chemical in an amount exceeding established standards, the brand must provide a “clear and reasonable” warning.
A prenatal vitamin without the heavy metals
At Natalist, we don’t just get the raw materials of our prenatal pills tested, we test the finished product as well. Each batch of prenatals is tested for:
- Arsenic (Aa)
- Cadmium (Cd)
- Germanium (Ge)
- Mercury (Hg)
- Indium (IN)
- Lead (Pb)
- Terbium (Tb)
We are proud to say that all our batches tested to date have passed the test for both federal standards and California Prop 65.
- Toxic Chemicals and Fertility
- Chemicals to Avoid While Pregnant
- Avoiding Exposure to Toxic Chemicals During Pregnancy