Supplementing children’s diet is not a new age marketing concept. Generations ago cod-liver oil was given to children to prevent vitamin D deficiency that led to the crippling development of rickets. Multivitamins for children have been around for more than 50 years, they were often given to children who were traditionally not reaching their growth chart average. However, it’s fair to say in recent years that the number of supplements that are marketed towards children have expanded significantly. From multivitamins, omega fish oil, probiotics and calcium supplements, even protein powders are all growing in popularity in the supplement market. So is it therapeutically beneficial to give your children supplements?
Supplementing children can be beneficial. You need to first establish if there is a deficiency or condition. If a child gets one bad cold a year, and recovers without any issues, you can probably save your money and effort. However, for the child who constantly is fighting infections, supplementation may improve their immune response and recovery time. Additionally, for a child that is an exceptionally fussy eater and concerns are mounting about possible deficiencies, supplementation may prove to be necessary.
MOST COMMON SUPPLEMENTS PRESCRIBED FOR CHILDREN
Vitamin C: is the most common immune support nutrient. It is shown to reduce the severity in upper respiratory tract infections and improve healing time. Vitamin C acts as anti-histamine reducing severity of allergies.
Probiotics: A study showed that a preschool group that used a vitamin C and probiotic supplement had 30% reduction in upper respiratory tract infections.(1) Probiotics are given to improve children’s immune function and digestive wellbeing. Probiotics are recommended after antibiotic therapy to assist in restoring microbiotic flora in the small intestine.
Zinc: plays an essential role in modulating the immune system and may decrease the severity of upper respiratory tract infections. (2)
Vitamin D: is supplemented in children for various reasons: immune, bone density, skin conditions, autism spectrum disorders and genetic disposition. In clinical practice I prescribe vitamin D for any child who is prescribed cortisone.
EPA/DHA: (omega-3): are supplemented in children usually for symptoms of atopy. EPA/DHA assists to help modulate a healthy immune system. They are also recommended to assist with cognitive function and behavioural conditions. Many parents struggle to get their children to eat fish so supplementation is convenient.
Multivitamin: if a child is on constant medication for certain diagnosed conditions their B vitamins may be depleted. A multi vitamin could benefit their long term well being.
ARE CHILDREN'S VITAMINS A WASTE OF MONEY?
If you have purchased children’s supplements in the supermarket or in a discount bin in a chemist, chances are they are of little therapeutic benefit. Just like adult supplements, children’s supplements vary vastly in quality and price. If you are giving children supplements, consider the following factors in weighing up their quality:
Therapeutic dose: is there actually enough of the required nutrient in the supplement? A good example is fish oil, if it contains less than 500mg of EPA/DHA combined you are not going to get a therapeutic dose. Depending on the condition, you may need a much higher dose. If you are trying to treat a condition in a child it is worthwhile seeing a naturopath or nutritionist to prescribe the therapeutic dose and recommend the correct supplement.
Sweeteners: as most children’s supplements are chewable they are often sweetened to make them more palatable. Unfortunately, many cheaper supplements are sweetened with glucose and artificial sweeteners. Such supplements will compromise the oral health of the child are best avoided. Look for supplements that are sweetened with xylitol, thaumatin or stevia. Xylitol would be my preference as it is actually beneficial for healing the mucous membranes in sinus prone children.
Country of manufacture: I strongly advise purchasing children’s supplements that are approved by the TGA and manufactured in Australia/New Zealand. Cheap imported children’s supplements often contain harmful flavours and colours.
A DIET THAT SUPPORTS THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
As a nutritionist the focus on improving our wellbeing is always work on the diet first. Unfortunately for many parents, encouraging children to eat properly can be a huge challenge. If we offer good food and eating habits from the beginning it makes the later years easier. Foods that support the immune system include a wide range of fruit and vegetables that are rich in beta-carotene: pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, broccoli, oranges and berries to name a few. These foods convert to vitamin A which is essential for healthy immune function.
Use bone broth as a base for meals, it is so rich in nutrients to assist healing a rundown immune system. Try adding it to bolognaise sauce, pumpkin soup, noodle soup or casseroles.
Try adding some fermented foods to their diet, sauerkraut may not appeal to all kids but unless you try you won’t know? Adding a tablespoon of kefir to smoothies is a great way to include probiotic foods to their diet. Replacing fruit juice with kombucha is an excellent way to reduce sugar intake and add gut healing foods to their diet.
If you are not sure if your child requires supplementation or would like advice on how to enhance their nutritional intake, make an appointment with Holy Mackerel Health.
(1) Probiotics and vitamin C for the prevention of respiratory tract infections in children attending preschool: a randomised controlled pilot study I Garaiova,1,7 J Muchová,2,7 Z Nagyová,3 D Wang,4 J V Li,5,6 Z Országhová,2 D R Michael,1 S F Plummer,1 and Z Ďuračková2,* European Journal of Medicine 2015 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4351422/
Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid supplements in children with autism spectrum disorder: a study protocol for a factorial randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial Hajar Mazahery, Cathryn Conlon, Kathryn L. Beck, Marlena C. Kruger, Welma Stonehouse, Carlos A. CamargoJr., Barbara J. Meyer, Bobby Tsang, Owen Mugridge and Pamela R. 2016 https://trialsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13063-016-1428-8
(2) Zinc lozenges and the common cold: a meta-analysis comparing zinc acetate and zinc gluconate, and the role of zinc dosage Harri Hemilä First Published May 2, 2017 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2054270417694291
A Meta-Analysis of Probiotic Efficacy for Gastrointestinal Diseases Marina L. Ritchie , Tamara N. Romanuk Published: April 18, 2012https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0034938 http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0034938