Are Prenatal Vitamins Safe If You're Not Pregnant?

Prenatal vitamins are like the superfood of multivitamins — packed with enough nutrients to benefit not one, but two people. They've also got a reputation for making your hair and nails grow longer, faster. If you're looking for the best vitamin out there, you may be tempted to take a prenatal vitamin even if you're not pregnant. However, that may not be such a great idea.

Designed specifically for the needs of pregnant and nursing mothers, prenatal vitamins are intended to provide specific nutrients that may be lacking or difficult to get via diet. This is especially true in the first trimester, when morning sickness is likely to make it difficult to keep food down. They typically have high amounts of calcium, folic acid, and iron, as well as vitamins E, A, C, zinc, and copper (via Healthline). 

However, these vitamins can actually have some detrimental effects when taken in high doses over an extended period of time.

Will anything bad happen if I take prenatal vitamins when I'm not pregnant?

Taking prenatal vitamins when you're not pregnant can actually have several negative side effects. For one, the additional folate and iron could mask the presence of a B12 deficiency, which would leave you feeling sluggish despite the added vitamins (via Women's Day).

Prenatal vitamins also tend to be high in iron, which commonly causes nausea and constipation (via WebMD). Since the body can't excrete iron, it tends to accumulate in the system. Excessive iron can also irritate existing gastrointestinal issues like Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

As with most things, the label is key — prenatal vitamins are really just for pregnant people, those who are nursing, or those who are trying to conceive. If you're not pregnant, you may be surprised to learn that as long as you're eating a healthy and varied diet, you probably don't need a multivitamin at all (via Cleveland Clinic). Your doctor can recommend or approve any supplements that you're interested in taking if you're trying to address a specific health issue.