Is Vitamin A Palmitate Safe While Pregnant?

Vitamin A, a fat soluble vitamin, performs essential functions in the body. Everyone, including pregnant women, needs some vitamin A in their diet. Vitamin A palmitate, also known as retinyl palmitate, is one of several forms of vitamin A available as a dietary supplement. It also occurs naturally in foods such as dairy products, liver and eggs. High doses of vitamin A palmitate can cause birth defects if taken during pregnancy -- particularly early pregnancy.

Recommended Doses in Pregnancy

Vitamin A dosing causes confusion for several reasons. First, the vitamin comes in two forms: preformed vitamin A, which includes vitamin A palmitate, and provitamin A carotenoids, which include beta-carotene. Second, dosages are reported in several ways, including as International Units (IU) or as retinol activity equivalents, (RAE). Pregnant women over age 19 need 770 micrograms of RAE per day, or 2565 IU. Because some foods are fortified with vitamin A, pregnant women should avoid prenatal vitamins containing more than 1,500 micrograms or 5,000 IU of vitamin A Palmitate, the Linus Pauling Institute warns.



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When taken shortly before or during pregnancy in doses over 3,000 micrograms or 10,000 IU, vitamin A palmitate can cause birth defects called cranial neural crest defects. This type of fetal malformation causes craniofacial defects of the bone, connective tissue and cartilage.


A study by researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine reported on the effects of vitamin A in the November 1995 issue of the “New England Journal of Medicine.” The study found that women who consumed more than 15,000 IU of preformed vitamin A per day from food and supplements had 3.5 times the rate of birth defects compared to those who consumed less than 5,000 IU per day while pregnant. For women who took over 15,000 IU in supplements alone, the rate increased to 4.8 times that of women who took less than 5,000 IU. Taking high doses before the seventh week of pregnancy appeared to increase the risk.



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Around 1 in 57 women who took doses of more than 10,000 IU of preformed vitamin A in supplement form, which includes vitamin A palmitate, had infants with malformations in the “New England Journal of Medicine” study. No increases in birth defects have occurred at doses less than 3,000 micrograms or 10,000 IU per day. Vitamin A is necessary in required amounts for your health and that of your baby, but read supplement labels carefully to make sure you don’t exceed the upper limit. Only excessive amounts of preformed vitamin A, not carotenoids, are associated with birth defects.