One out of every nine kids uses a supplement in America. But do kids really need them? Are supplements safe for kids?
Most pediatricians would agree kids receive their fair share of vitamins naturally from their everyday meals. Ordinarily, a varied diet will be enough for your kid’s body to develop. But kids can be fussy about the food they eat, and erratic eating habits might have you looking for an alternative.
Here’s what you need to know about supplements for kids.
Why your kid might need supplements
Here are a few common reasons why your kids might need supplements:
- If your child is on a vegan, dairy-free or vegetarian diet, supplements will help include those vitamins he/she is missing out on. If a child suffers from asthma or a digestive issue, doctors could prescribe a supplement.
- If your kid is attracted to fast food and carbonated drinks, a dietary supplement could help set a balance that doesn’t hamper their physical development.
But if you’re giving your kids vitamins for other conditions, there are some things you should know. Giving kids a large dose of vitamins, megavitamin therapy, has not been scientifically proven to help dyslexic or hyperactive children. Usually, it tends to have the opposite effect. Excessive Vitamin C supplements, for instance, can cause cramps and headaches in kids.
At times, the side effects of too many vitamins can be minor. Omega 3 supplements are known to cause marginal digestive issues and diarrhea when they exceed their recommended daily values. Melatonin does aid with sleep, but its long-term consequences have not been researched. On the other hand, emergency rooms receive nearly 5,000 kids a year who have problems, directly or indirectly, related to supplements.
Whether naturally or in the form of a supplement, keep in mind too much of a good thing can be bad, especially when it comes to kids. One-third of an adult’s meal is the correct portion for your child. A healthy snack between meals is a good idea. Compared to 20 years ago, the number of overweight kids has doubled.
Vitamin dos and don’ts for kids
All that being said, if you feel your child could benefit from an herbal or dietary supplement, keep in mind these tips (and our list of essential vitamins and minerals for growing kids).
- Preventing accidents: If your kids do need supplements, make sure you keep them locked away so they don’t mistake them for candy. This is especially true of chewable vitamins that look like something out of a confectionery (and detergent pods—but that’s another story entirely).
- Timing and form: Never give your child a chewable vitamin on an empty stomach. Fat-soluble vitamins are easier to break down with a meal. Chewable vitamins are always a better idea than a pill or liquid supplement.
- Age: It’s always best to wait till your kids turns 4 before getting them started on vitamin supplements. You should only start earlier if it has been recommended by a doctor.
Here’s a list of vitamins and minerals your kid should be getting in the right amounts.
- Vitamin A: This vitamin aids natural growth and development in kids. It helps foster better eyesight and healthy skin. Kids are often more prone to falling ill than adults, and Vitamin A improves the immune response, allowing the body to fight pathogens. Carrots, milk, squash, cheese and eggs are common sources of vitamin A. Vitamin A supplements should only be used if your kid is malnourished; a doctor’s prescription of the correct dosage should be followed strictly.
- Vitamin B: The Vitamin B family helps your circulatory and nervous systems perform at the highest level. These vitamins also help keep exhaustion at bay and support bone and dental growth. Green vegetables, strawberries, chicken and fish will typically provide enough Vitamin B for your child to stay healthy. If not, B vitamins could be a good choice, and were recently one of the major vitamin supplements found to be effective.
- Vitamin C: There’s a reason your grandmother insisted on orange juice. Not only does it help with a cold, but it also improves the overall health of children. It assists the body in the formation of neurotransmitters, collagen and carnitine. The chemical carnitine helps the body transform fatty acid, allowing your kid to stay energized.
On another note: there’s a misconception that Vitamin C prevents kids from falling ill. While it does boost the immune system and might reduce the duration of illness, overloading on Vitamin C is not recommended. Usually, pediatricians prescribe supplements for a short duration when common infections kick in.
- Vitamin D: It’s common knowledge that vitamin D improves calcium absorption in kids and improves bone structure. A recent study among asthmatic kids found that Vitamin D supplements helped reduce asthma attacks by 59%. Another study showed a significant decrease in respiratory tract infections among children on Vitamin D supplementation. However, both these studies were conducted with a small group of kids.
Sunshine and milk are two surefire ways of increasing Vitamin D intake. However, kids don’t spend as much time outdoors nowadays. And milk doesn’t top any kid’s favorite drink list. Chewable vitamins high in D3 are a good way to make sure your child is getting enough of this vital vitamin. Vitamin drops are an option, but in this form the risk of overdosing is higher.
According to the Institute of Medicine, 2500 IU/day of Vitamin D is the maximum dose for kids between 1 to 3 years; 4 to 8-year-olds, the dosage shouldn’t go above 3,000 IU; and kids above the age of 9 should be restricted to 4,000 IU a day.
- Iron: Iron deficiency crops up during growth spurts. Irritability and lethargy are common signs that your adolescent might need more iron than he/she is currently getting. Iron helps build muscle and keeps the red blood cell count at an optimal level. When young girls near puberty they need more iron than boys do.
One way to improve iron levels is to introduce food items rich in Vitamin C. Cantaloupe, citrus fruits and tomatoes help the body absorb more iron. If a doctor prescribes an iron screening and notices a dip in levels, he might suggest multivitamins or iron supplements. Always make sure you adhere to the dosage levels.
- Calcium: Low calcium levels could be the starting point for joint problems as your kid gets older. In order to avoid porous bones, make sure your kid’s diet includes broccoli, yogurt and other calcium-rich foods.
Short-term studies have shown that calcium supplements don’t really make much of a difference. Milk and other dairy products are the best way to go if your kid is low on calcium.
When it comes to vitamin supplements, it’s always best to consult a doctor before putting your kids onto something that might not be right for them. There is no substitute for a careful nutrition plan, and if your child does need supplements, make sure you’re following the doctor’s orders so that these dietary additions help your kid’s health rather than harm it.