It’s a truth universally acknowledged that your body’s nutritional needs grow substantially during pregnancy.
After all, pregnancy can sometimes feel like the sort of journey the hero of an adventure story might go on — one requiring a ragtag team of single-minded specialists, a pack full of new tools, devices, supplements and sustenance, and the wherewithal to put your body to the test.
In many cases, the new nutritional needs for pregnant people are known, particularly in the case of vitamins like folate, iron and vitamin D, which maintain red blood cells, prevent neural tube defects, support bone health, embryo development, foetal growth and child development to create positive pregnancy outcomes.
Years of medical research has told us exactly how these supplements support the bodies of pregnant people, which makes them star players in any prenatal supplement and important parts of your pregnancy adventure pack.
For every star though, there are a dozen supporting players.
The characters that do their small part to make your journey that much easier and lead to decreased risk of pregnancy complications.
These might not show up in your pregnancy vitamin, but they are still worth talking about.
Vitamin E is one of those characters.
What is vitamin E?
Vitamin E comes in many forms, but for the sake of your needs while pregnant, we’ll be talking about it in two forms: the alpha-tocopherol form, which is the only one used inside the body, and dl-alpha-tocopherol, which is a synthetic form of vitamin E used in creams and topical oils.
It’s perhaps easiest to think of vitamin E as a fat-soluble vitamin and an antioxidant, working to decrease oxidative stress in the body through scavenging for loose atoms, ions, molecules and electrons — also known as free radicals — that cause damage to your body’s cells.
It’s these free radicals that can cause clogs in your arteries and your skin, and contribute to cancer, vision loss, asthma, skin damage and a range of other medical conditions.
In other words, vitamin E works with vitamin C and basically helps your body to protect itself from harmful atoms, boosting your natural immune system, and contributing to your overall health.
What are the benefits of taking vitamin E in pregnancy?
The exact benefits of vitamin E during pregnancy are often debated due to a lack of clinical trials, but it’s generally understood that the antioxidant properties of vitamin E work with vitamin C to decrease oxidative stress during pregnancy.
It has been suggested by many a clinical trial that this, in turn, reduces the risk for a whole host of pregnancy health effects including pre-eclampsia, intrauterine growth restriction and placental abruption.
It also ensures healthy skin, healthy growth and a reduction in pregnancy complications.
Peer-reviewed studies have also suggested that a vitamin E deficiency can lead to an increased risk of low birth weight babies, preterm delivery, or even miscarriage and neonatal death for women who smoke and vape, or who live in areas with severe air pollution.
How much vitamin E do I need?
Interestingly, vitamin E, unlike folic acid and iron, isn’t a maternal vitamin you need in significantly higher doses while pregnant.
In fact, your body only needs a little bit of vitamin E in general as it’s a fat-soluble vitamin (in other words, it's easily stored in your body’s natural fat for use as required), meaning vitamin E supplementation is rarely required in high doses.
Generally speaking, the recommended dose for women over the age of 14 is 15mg a day, and studies suggest that an increase to 19 mg a day can be beneficial, particularly while lactating.
Anything more than that though can pose risks, as high doses of vitamin E can be harmful to pregnant people.
What are the risks of vitamin E in pregnancy?
Just like how a vitamin E deficiency can lead to miscarriage or preterm birth, so can too much vitamin E during pregnancy.
The greatest concern of too much vitamin E during pregnancy is the increased risk of preterm birth, abdominal pain, increased oxidative stress and term prelabour rupture of foetal membranes.
Even outside of pregnancy, vitamin E can lead to excess bleeding, which obviously becomes a much greater problem during pregnancy itself.
Other studies have also suggested that high levels of pregnancy vitamin E can have an increased risk of low birth weight babies, and birth defects such as congenital heart defects.
Is this risk found in vitamin E cream as well?
It can be! Vitamin E creams are really commonly used by pregnant women to promote healthy skin and reduce stretch marks on breasts and bellies, and while generally speaking, they should be low risk, your body is still absorbing that extra vitamin E.
Instead, using a cream that has greater levels of witch hazel and shea butter and only low vitamin doses, such as Kin’s Nourishing Cream, can be a safer alternative, particularly if you know that your own vitamin E levels are high.
How do I know if I have a vitamin E deficiency?
It's actually fairly rare to develop a vitamin E deficiency as it can be found naturally in many common foods such as leafy green vegetables and oils such as vegetable oils, olive oil and sunflower oil, and stored for a long time in fats within the body.
That said, people who have digestive disorders such as pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, or coeliac disease, are at an increased risk for a vitamin E deficiency.
In these cases, common symptoms include:
- Retinopathy: Damage to the retina of the eyes that can impair vision
- Peripheral neuropathy: Peripheral nerve damage, usually in the hands or feet
- Ataxia: Loss of control of body movements
- Decreased immune system.
For pregnant people, this can impact both their baby's and their own health, appearing as abdominal pain and intrauterine growth restriction which can, in turn, impact embryo development and foetal growth, and in extreme cases lead to premature rupture, preterm birth and neonatal death.
How do I find the balance of getting enough, but not too much vitamin E in pregnancy?
The first thing you should do is talk to your doctor or a medical professional to get their advice as to your vitamin E levels and your own health broadly, but then the best thing to do is take a look at your diet.
Many foods contain vitamin E, and being a fat-soluble vitamin, means the way it occurs in food ensures there’s never enough in them to reach toxic levels.
This makes ensuring you have a balanced diet the safest way to guarantee you’re getting an adequate intake of vitamin E without overdoing it.
These foods include:
- Vegetable oils such as wheat germ, olive oil and sunflower oil
- Sunflower seeds, almonds, and peanuts
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and collared greens
- Other vegetables such as pumpkin, capsicum and asparagus
- Fruits such as mango and avocado.
All of these foods are also high in other vitamins such as folic acid, vitamin C and more that are crucial to maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
If you feel you're not getting the right balance in your diet, taking nutritional supplements during pregnancy, like Kin’s Prenatal Vitamins, is a great way of making sure your body is getting the nutrients it needs.
Our Prenatal doesn’t include vitamin E, but it’s chock-full of those star players, including folate, iron, vitamin D and other supplements to support your immune system and give you the best pregnancy outcomes.
Photo Credit: Suhyeon Choi via Unsplash