Heavy Metals in Prenatal Vitamins - Should You Be Concerned?

You’ve probably seen the recent news headlines and the chatter on social media about heavy metals in baby food. It can be scary to see for sure, and it makes you wonder where else you might be exposed. The report itself even acknowledges that high levels of exposure to those metals “are likely to have a significant impact on public health,” and “can be especially harmful to children because of concerns about effects on their neurological development.”

But it’s helpful to have some context about where these metals come from. It’s also prudent to understand what different companies, including Needed, do to test for and minimize heavy metal exposure in their products. Let’s dive in.

Where do heavy metals come from?

While fingers often point to poor farming practices as a source for metals, the truth is, heavy metals are present in a number of plant products for a variety of reasons:

  • They are found in soil 

  • Lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic are present in our environment and in the ground. The concentrations vary by geographic location but exist nearly everywhere, even in the soil of organically-farmed produce. 

    However, while some of these metals occur naturally,  many of them result from industrial farming practices and from nearby environmental pollutants (e.g., manufacturing pollution, etc.). Plants absorb both minerals and metals from the soil as they grow, which is how they end up in our food.

  • They are introduced in processing 

  • This point of introduction has been suggested in certain foods for years, but the recent report brought it more light and significance. 

    A common example of this has been demonstrated in cocoa beans which have extremely low levels of naturally occurring lead in them. However, chocolate and cocoa powder can have very high levels of lead. One study tested cocoa beans before and after processing, as well as the soil in which they were grown and concluded that it is the processing and manufacturing that contributes heavy metals to chocolate products. While we love a good hot cacao or chocolate smoothie, we recommend paying attention to chocolate, cocoa powder, and cacao powder sourcing.

    Most recently, as was revealed in the new congressional report on baby food, on August 1, 2019, the FDA received a secret presentation from a baby food manufacturer that revealed that the commercial process of preparing finished baby foods increases their levels of toxic heavy metals. For that manufacturer, (Hain, the maker of Happy Baby products), the process increased inorganic arsenic levels between 28% and 93%. Alarmingly, the FDA under the prior administration took no apparent action.

  • They exist in additives

  • The new congressional report on baby foods also had data showing that some ingredients that appear in processed foods such as amylase (an enzyme for texture) and added vitamin and mineral supplement mixes contribute additional heavy metals to processed baby foods.

    What We at Needed Do to Minimize Heavy Metals

    • Third party testing: while third party testing is not mandatory, we take this extra step to ensure our raw ingredients and finished products have safe levels of all metals.
    • Avoid ingredients known to have high levels of metals: certain ingredients like plant proteins and whole food supplements have high levels of metal. Instead, we opt for carefully-sourced grass-fed Collagen Protein and, when there is an elevated risk of heavy metals and other contaminants, we choose mindfully-made vitamins and minerals, versus those grown in uncontrolled soil environments. We always utilize nutrients in the forms that exist in nature, and that your body best utilizes.
    • Know every step of our supply chain: we vet every single supplier carefully as well as the producers who manufacture our product. 

    What You Can Do as a Consumer

    • Be selective in who you buy from: ask companies for reports of testing of Certificates of Analysis (COAs). If not available, review any available third party testing. Organizations like the Clean Label Project and Pure Market perform independent tests on many common products and are an unbiased source for consumers.
    • Eat foods that naturally detox metals: since we know metals are unavoidable in some cases, focus on incorporating foods that naturally detox metals as part of your daily diet. These include cilantro, garlic, lemon water, spirulina, chlorella, and green tea. A note of caution for pregnant mamas: it is not recommended to detox metals or other toxins while pregnant as they can be transferred to baby through the placenta. However, it is optimal to detox heavy metals prior to pregnancy if you feel or know you have been exposed and if timing allows.
    • Take targeted probiotics: A Canadian study on pregnant women found a significant protective effect of the probiotic species Lactobacillus rhamnosus against mercury and arsenic in the pregnant women. Another study published in the Egyptian Journal of Environmental Research in 2016 examined lactic acid bacteria’s ability to bind to heavy metals and remove them from the system, especially associated with cadmium and lead. Lactic acid bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, had a high tolerance to these toxic heavy metals and even some antioxidative abilities. Both Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus species are present in our Prenatal Pre/Probiotic.
    • Ensure you are well nourished: Many studies in both animals and humans have shown that a deficiency in essential metals such as Zinc, Calcium, and Iron can lead to greater absorption and toxicity of Cadmium and Lead. Since pregnancy and breastfeeding can easily deplete mama of these nutrients, a comprehensive prenatal vitamin, and well-absorbed Iron as needed, are especially important.
    • Advocate: Organizations like Kiss the Ground (one of our partners we support through 1% for the planet) support farmers, ranchers, and land stewards from around the globe in their transition to regenerative practices that heal the soil, revive ecosystems, increase farmer wellbeing, and help balance the climate. Supporting organizations like this and advocating for change you hope to see in the food system is another way to promote change.

    While it can be scary to know that there are uncertainties in some foods, we hope you feel empowered with this information and confident in knowing that we at Needed take every precaution to ensure that our products are both effective and safe for you. As always, reach out via email or DM us on Instagram with any questions you have. We’re here for you!