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A New Reason to Take Multivitamins During Pregnancy

Photograph by Twenty20

If you're holding off on prenatal vitamins after hearing they are useless, you might want to reconsider. In 2016, a review of previous research blew everyone's minds (and made us all feel like we were victims of some vitamin company scam) when they suggested prenatal vitamins, which can cost up to $30 a bottle, are a waste of money. Instead, they said, women should focus on their diets while taking only folic acid and vitamin D.

But yesterday, an international team of researchers found that children of moms who took multivitamins during pregnancy were as much as a full year ahead in schooling when it came to their cognitive abilities between 9 to 12 years of age.

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This is especially the case for anemic mothers or women who don't regularly get enough vitamins and minerals from their diets alone.

The study, published in the journal Lancet Global Health, followed almost 3,000 9- to 12-year-old children in Indonesia whose moms participated in an earlier study that looked into the effects of pregnancy supplements.

Kids of pregnant moms who were give multivitamins (which contained iron, folic acid, retinol, vitamin D, vitamin E, ascorbic acid, vitamin B, niacin, zinc, copper, selenium and iodine) had better procedural memory, which is about half a year of schooling ahead, than those who took standard iron-folic acid supplements, which is what present global policy recommends. Procedural memory is super important for kids in learning new skills and processing already established ones. It plays a part in anything from driving and typing to reading and speaking.

Another really surprising find in the study is that children's brain development and general intellectual ability isn't as affected by biological factors (think premature birth, low infant birth weight, poor nutrition of mom and/or baby), but by children's socio-environmental factors. In other words, things like maternal depression, home life and parental education can strongly influence how smart your kid is in the long run.

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"No one on the team had anticipated the extent to which social and environmental factors would exceed biological factors as the determinants of cognitive function, two- to three-fold, by some measurements,” said Dr. Husni Muadz of University of Mataram, Indonesia.

So the tl;dr? Take those multivitamin supplements during pregnancy if you're not getting the right nutrients from your food. But also remember that nurture really can have more significant long-term effects on the brain than nature.

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