Is it safe to take Emergen C while pregnant?

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It ain’t no fun being pregnant during a global pandemic, right? Never mind the social isolation when you should be celebrating with friends and family, but the constant threat of coming down with a serious infection can be a real downer. However, there are things you can do to help mitigate that risk, including sleeping well, getting some exercise and eating right. In addition, taking an immunity supplement can help. But wait – is it safe to take a product like Emergen C while pregnant?

Just to be clear, we are not affiliated in any way with the company that makes Emergen C. However, we can help you to take a critical look at this product to see how it might affect you and your baby.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is Emergen C and why do people take it?

As usual these days, there isn’t just one product from a major brand like Emergen C. The most well-known version of this product is an orange-flavored powdered beverage that you mix into water or shake into a bottle, and there is also an “Immune+” variant with added vitamin D and a proprietary complex.

Emergen-C, 1,000 mg Vitamin C, Super Orange, 30 Packets, 0.32 oz (9.1 g) Each
Click image for details

The main ingredient is vitamin C, along with other nutrients. However, they also make other products like gummies and chewables that have mostly the same nutrition profile as the powdered beverage.

However, for this discussion we’ll focus on the original product and the newer “Immunity+” version because they tend to have the highest levels of the nutrients. As we’ve discussed before, gummies are often lacking in the nutrition department.

People take Emergen C to boost their immunity, typically during cold and flu season. However, many people anecdotally report that the product helps give them energy during the day. This could be expected, as vitamin C and some of the B vitamins have been linked to decreased levels of fatigue. Because it’s got a bunch of different vitamins and minerals in addition to vitamin C, it also makes a fairly decent multivitamin for the average person.

What are the key ingredients in Emergen C and what do they do for your immune system?

As you can guess, vitamin C is the number one ingredient in all the versions of Emergen-C. The powdered products and chewables all have 1000 mg of vitamin C, while the gummies tend to have lesser amounts because there is only so much vitamin C that can be mixed into a gummy. Vitamin C is by far the most well-known ingredient for immunity, going back many decades to the advocacy of the renowned chemist, Linus Pauling. For more background, you can check out these pages on the Linus Pauling Institute and the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements fact sheet.

Some people think that the effect of vitamin C on immunity has been debunked, but a number of clinical trials have proven that it works to help mitigate respiratory tract infections. This is especially true in people under physical stress, like soldiers and marathon runners. The caveat is that you do need to take a significant amount every day, like 500-1000 mg, to get the job done.

Emergen-C also has other ingredients that are important for the immune system. B vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12 and folate are all essential for immune cell production. It also has zinc, an essential mineral that plays a role in a huge number of physiological processes. Zinc is well known to support immune system health. The “Immune+” version also has vitamin D, which has been shown to decrease the risk for developing respiratory tract infections and even may shorten the duration of colds. This nutrient is especially important in the fall and winter when sun exposure is low (vitamin D is made in the skin when exposed to UV rays).

Is it safe to take vitamin C while pregnant?

OK, so to answer this question, we need to take a look at how much vitamin C is contained in Emergen-C, and how that relates to the daily recommendation in pregnancy, and what’s called the “tolerable upper limit” for pregnancy. We’ve already taken a look at these for adults in general as many people ask “how many Emergen-C is OK to drink.” The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences (formerly called the Institute of Medicine) has developed these values in a series of “Dietary Reference Intakes.” In the table below you can see how they compare for vitamin C and the other nutrients in Emergen C:

NutrientAmount in Emergen-CDaily Recommendation for PregnancyUpper Limit for Pregnancy
Vitamin C1000 mg85 mg2000 mg
Thiamin.36 mg1.4 mgND
Riboflavin.39 mg1.4 mgND
Niacin4 mg18 mg35 mg
Vitamin B610 mg1.9 mg100 mg
Folate167 mcg DFE600 mcg DFE1000 mcg DFE
Vitamin B1225 mcg2.6 mgND
Pantothenic Acid2.5 mg6 mgND
Calcium50 mg1000 mg2500 mg
Phosphorous38 mg700 mg3500 mg
Magnesium53 mg350 mg350 mg
Zinc2 mg11 mg40 mg
Manganese.5 mg2 mg11 mg
Chromium10 mcg30 mgND
Sodium65 mg1500 mgND
Potassium200 mg2900 mgND
DFE: dietary folate equivalents, ND: not determined. Source: Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies. Dietary Reference Intakes for pregnant women. RDAs and AIs for vitamins and minerals, tolerable upper limits for vitamins and minerals.

The first thing to note is that NONE of the nutrients are above the tolerable upper limit, and in fact, most of them are well below the recommended daily intake. And that’s OK. Because you are eating other foods, there’s no need to get everything from a supplement. However, a few of the nutrients are above the recommended level, specifically vitamin C, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, so it’s worth taking a closer look…

Vitamin C is way above the typical intake recommendation level because studies show taking 1000 mg of vitamin C can have a positive impact on preventing or controlling upper respiratory tract infections. From a safety standpoint, this is not an issue as 2000 mg of vitamin C is the limit. And going above that level is only a problem because of gastrointestinal complaints. There are many studies where much larger amounts of vitamin C have been injected with no adverse reactions.

What about the other ingredients in Emergen C?

The higher levels of B vitamins are not an issue. These are most likely included because B vitamins do play an essential role in immune system function. But in addition, they support healthy energy metabolism in the cell and help convert food to energy. Because of this role in cellular energy production, they can be helpful if you are down on energy, for example when you’re sick. Vitamin B12 has no established upper limit, as there are no known adverse effects associated with vitamin B12 intake. This doesn’t mean you should just take as much as you want, but the levels included in Emergen-C are fairly typical.

In addition, vitamin B6 can also be helpful if you suffer from morning sickness, and there is even a morning sickness drug based on high levels of this vitamin. The amount of vitamin B6 is far below the tolerable upper limit for pregnancy, so there really should be no concern.

What about Emergen C Immune+ while pregnant?

In addition to the base Emergen C product line, the Immune+ product line is also very popular. Although there are some minor differences in the formula as shown in the table below, the main differences are the addition of vitamin D and a proprietary blend.

As with the base product, Immune+ also comes in different formats, but we are focusing on the powder, as that typically has the highest level of the nutrients. Looking at the level of vitamin D, this is also above the recommended intake for pregnancy, but well below the upper limit of intake. In fact, higher levels of vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy may be beneficial for helping to reduce the risk for preterm birth.

The proprietary blend is another story and is a bit harder to judge. Because it’s a proprietary blend, we don’t know how much of each ingredient is there, but most likely it’s 250 mg of yeast beta-glucan as that’s been shown to help protect against respiratory infections in clinical trials, with the remainder being arabinogalactan which has also been shown to have immune benefits.

From a safety standpoint, there is no data that we know of demonstrating any adverse effects in pregnancy. So, most likely these ingredients are safe. But on the other hand, we can’t really base a safety assessment on a lack of data. If you want to play it safe, just stick with the regular Emergen C.

NutrientAmount in Emergen-CDaily Recommendation for PregnancyUpper Limit for Pregnancy
Vitamin C1000 mg85 mg2000 mg
Vitamin D25 mcg (1000 IU)15 mcg (600 IU)100 mcg (4000 IU)
Thiamin.38 mg1.4 mgND
Riboflavin.43 mg1.4 mgND
Niacin4 mg18 mg35 mg
Vitamin B610 mg1.9 mg100 mg
Folate167 mcg DFE600 mcg DFE1000 mcg DFE
Vitamin B1225 mcg2.6 mgND
Pantothenic Acid2.5 mg6 mgND
Calcium50 mg1000 mg2500 mg
Phosphorous38 mg700 mg3500 mg
Magnesium60 mg350 mg350 mg
Zinc10 mg11 mg40 mg
Manganese.5 mg2 mg11 mg
Chromium10 mcg30 mgND
Sodium70 mg1500 mgND
Potassium200 mg2900 mgND
Proprietary complex (Arabinogalactan and
yeast beta-glucan)
500 mg******
DFE: dietary folate equivalents, ND: not determined. Source: Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies. Dietary Reference Intakes for pregnant women. RDAs and AIs for vitamins and minerals, tolerable upper limits for vitamins and minerals.

What if I take Emergen C along with a prenatal vitamin?

Now, it’s one thing to look at Emergen C by itself, but its another to consider it along with a prenatal vitamin. Some prenatal vitamins have fairly moderate levels of nutrients, but others sometimes can have whopping doses. There are a few on the market (example) that already contain the upper limit of folate. Don’t buy these.

However, for the most part, when we look at the amounts of different vitamins in Emergen C, you would still be far away from any recommended upper limits for most of the nutrients. However, you should add up the amounts from your prenatal plus the amounts shown in the above tables to make your own assessment. Also, as we like to remind people, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.

What if it’s sold out? What are the alternatives to Emergen C?

Now that you feel more comfortable taking such a product, great! Go ahead and order some… Oh right, everything is sold out 🙁 But hang on, there is a solution to this problem.

The first option is to look for some other products with similar nutrition profiles. One product is Airborne, which is very similar to Emergen C but with some minor differences:

AirBorne, Original, Immune Support, Blast of Vitamin C, Zesty Orange, 3 Tubes, 10 Effervescent Tablets Each
Click image for details

There are also some alternative products that you can check out from other brands like Zarbees and Oxylent:

Zarbee's, Immune Support & Vitamin C Drink Mix, Natural Orange Flavor, 10 Packets, 3.5 oz (99 g)
Click image for details
Vitalah, Oxylent, Multivitamin Supplement Drink, Sparkling Mandarin, 30 Packets, 0.23 oz (6.4 g) Each
Click image for details

Build your own immunity supplement

Finally, you can also build your own immunity supplement with existing products on the market. In fact, this can be a good way to save some money, because in many cases these individual products are fairly inexpensive and you will get a lot more daily servings for your dollar. Also, if your prenatal vitamin is already providing many of the key ingredients, you don’t need to buy much else.

First, we need a basic vitamin C supplement:

California Gold Nutrition, Gold C, Vitamin C, 1,000 mg, 240 Veggie Capsules
Click image for details

Then find a solid prenatal multivitamin to get the B vitamins and the zinc:

Rainbow Light, Prenatal One, 150 Tablets
Click image for details

Finally, add a boost of vitamin D:

Now Foods, Vitamin D-3 High Potency, 1,000 IU, 180 Softgels
Click image for details

Bottom line

To boil it all down, it is safe to take Emergen C while pregnant. However, if you are already taking a prenatal vitamin (if not, you should be), it’s important that you add up the levels of the nutrients in that with the Emergen C nutrients, and you can find the tolerable upper limits in the table above.

In addition, there are other alternatives on the market that you can also consider, or you can also ‘build your own” Emergen C-type product by just finding a good prenatal vitamin and taking an extra dose of vitamin C and vitamin D. No matter what you choose, always remember to wash your hands, get lots of sleep, exercise, eat right and keep your distance to help decrease your risk of getting sick.

Stay well!

-VITAMENTOR