Is Liver Safe During Pregnancy? Vitamin A: The Overlooked Nutrient

Is Liver Safe During Pregnancy? Vitamin A: The Overlooked Nutrient

If you’re pregnant, you already know that providing your baby with the best possible nutrition is crucial for their growth and development. And while you may've heard a lot about the importance of folate, there's another nutrient that's equally essential but often overlooked and misunderstood: Vitamin A.

Vitamin A is a wonderful fat-soluble nutrient that is essential for a healthy immune system, vision and skin, and crucial for your baby's development during pregnancy, including the development of one of the most intricate parts of your baby’s body - their eyes.

Animal origin foods like liver, eggs, fish, and dairy are the most bioavailable sources of vitamin A, meaning they're easier for your body to absorb and use. In fact, preformed vitamin A, also known as retinol, is found exclusively in animal origin foods.

Provitamin A carotenoids (beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin), can be found in colourful fruits and vegetables such as leafy greens, carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes. However, provitamin A needs to be converted into its active form in the body - a process that varies from person to person and can be affected by factors like genetics, diet and overall health. For this reason, animal foods is a more efficient way to meet your vitamin A needs.

It’s worth noting, that although preformed vitamin A may be a more reliable source, carotenoids also have unique benefits - they’re powerful antioxidants which protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals. These unstable molecules are like little wrecking balls, bouncing around and causing damage to your cells and DNA. But antioxidants are the superheroes that neutralise free radicals and help protect your cells from harm!

So when it comes to antioxidants, carotenoids are some of the most effective at this job. But not only that, they also support healthy skin and eyes, and are packed with other important vitamins and minerals that keep your body functioning at its absolute best whilst you’re growing a little human!

During pregnancy, the demand for vitamin A increases, which means you need extra vitamin A to not only support your own body, but also the healthy growth and development of your baby which increases rapidly in the third trimester.

A healthy and adequate supply of vitamin A during pregnancy also helps to build up your baby’s own natural stores in preparation for the first few months of life, and can reduce the risk of illness and infection (1).

Liver, in particular, is one of the richest sources of preformed vitamin A, and is also packed with many essential nutrients that are crucial for your baby's development.

It’s often referred to as ‘nature's multivitamin’ or as we like to say 'nature's prenatal vitamin', as it provides well over 100% of the recommended daily intake for many important nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin B12, folate, zinc, iron, selenium, copper and phosphorus.

Many pregnant women have been warned against eating liver due to concerns about high vitamin A levels - which is in fact very misunderstood.

The reason many women are advised to avoid liver, is because of old research which linked synthetic vitamin A supplements during pregnancy to birth defects. But it's now known that natural vitamin A found in liver doesn't have this harmful effect, particularly when consumed alongside sufficient amounts of vitamin D and vitamin K2, which are also present in liver (2)

This emphasises the importance of getting nutrients from whole foods, as vitamins and minerals work in harmony with one another.

The World Health Organisation estimates that vitamin A deficiency affects 190 million preschool aged children, and 19 million pregnant women worldwide, and is said to be one of the top causes of preventable blindness in children (3).

Textbooks on nutrition written before the Second World War recommended that pregnant women eat liver frequently, yet today pregnant women are told to avoid this extremely nutritious food all together.

The Weston A. Price Foundation recommends 20,000 IU of vitamin A during pregnancy, from foods such as liver, cod liver oil and eggs. It's also suggested that a good recommendation for liver is 1x 100 gram serving of beef, lamb, bison or duck liver once or twice per week, providing about 50,000 IU of vitamin A per serving. Chicken liver, which is lower in vitamin A may be consumed more frequently, and is perfect as a pate for adults and children. The best choice is liver from grass-fed animals that spend their lives outdoors and on pasture (4).

The current guidelines for pregnant women are quite conservative, with a recommended daily intake of 770mcg, and 1,300mcg for lactation, with the upper limit of 3,000mcg/ 10,000 IU. 

A serving of My Healthy Baby beef liver (3 capsules) contains 525mcg of vitamin A, allowing more than enough room for intake of other vitamin A rich foods throughout the day, such as eggs, liver pate, fish, cod liver oil and dairy.

So if you've been hesitant to try liver during pregnancy, let me tell you, it's not as scary as it seems! Consuming liver from grass-fed animals in moderation can provide so much nourishment for both you and your growing baby, and will do wonders at replenishing your body after birth.

Much love,