It is clearly important to have a good spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients such as the omega-3 fatty acid DHA in a prenatal vitamin formula. Beyond that, in the case of certain vitamins, having them in the right form also matters. While a casual look at the ingredient list may indicate a very good formula, a closer and more informed inspection can reveal some significant shortcomings.

A good case in point is vitamin E. Some prenatal formulas will incorporate the commonly used (and less expensive) synthetic form of vitamin E, which is dl-alpha-tocopherol. The “dl” is the red flag. This means that there are equal amounts of d-alpha-tocopherol and l-alpha-tocopherol, which occurs with the synthetic process. The “d” form is one that, when crystallized, will bend light passing through it to the right. The crystallized “l” form bends light passing through it to the left. This may not seem like a big deal, but the truth is that our bodies can only utilize the “d” form. If half of the vitamin E is in the “l” form, then half of the amount of vitamin E listed is unusable. Since the presence of the “l” form also slightly reduces the absorption and availability of the active “d” form, the actual useful amount of vitamin E is a bit less than half the listed amount.

Another vitamin where having the right form is important is vitamin D. Vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, is the form naturally produced by the action of sunlight on cholesterol in the skin. Another form of vitamin D that it sometimes used in prenatal formulas is vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol. Clinical studies have shown that vitamin D3 is superior to vitamin D2 in activity and maintained blood levels after consumption of a given amount.

Yet another vitamin where the form makes a difference is vitamin B3, or niacin. Standard forms of this vitamin commonly cause a reaction known as niacin flush in susceptible individuals. This flush is manifested by redness, itching, and a sense of warmth that may affect localized or widespread areas of the body. A form of vitamin B3 known as inositol hexaniacinate is so good at reducing or eliminating niacin flush that is sometimes referred to as non-flush niacin. Formulas with the non-flush form of niacin can have obvious advantages.

Armed with this information and carefully examining the ingredient list of a prenatal vitamin can help you pick one that will offer you the most benefits. Also, don’t forget that your choice should include as broad a spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients as will fit into a size and dosing regimen that you can handle.