By Michele Peters
Parents are concerned with their child’s well being, both emotional and physical. Perhaps one of the most questioned topics is that of vitamins. Do we give or not give vitamins…what kind…how much? But, even more important, is there any harm in giving vitamins?
FROM THE EXPERTS
“I’m often asked by parents what vitamins their child should take. Because many parents took vitamins growing up, they feel their children should take vitamins to be healthy, strong and avoid illness. However, for most children it is not necessary as long as they have a healthy diet. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that children receiving a normal, well-balanced diet do not need vitamin supplementation above the recommended dietary allowances. A well-balanced diet for children includes milk and dairy (low-fat for children over age 3), fruits, vegetables, protein and grains. Most cereals are now enriched with many vitamins children need,” states Dr. Jacob T. Woods, DO, faculty of Mountain Vista Family Medicine Residency.
WHAT IS THE HARM?
A finicky eater doesn’t necessarily indicate nutritional deficiency since many common foods are fortified with B and D vitamins, calcium and iron. So what does this mean? Your child may be getting more vitamins and minerals than you think and in some cases giving mega doses, especially fat-soluble vitamins, Vitamin A, D, E and K, can do more harm.
However, some vitamins are necessary and recommended for children. Though breast milk is always best for newborn infants, breast milk lacks two important nutrients, Vitamin D and iron. Therefore, exclusively breast-fed infants should receive Vitamin D (400IU is recommended) and iron supplements.
Parents must also be aware that some vitamins and minerals can interact with medications your child may take.
THE GOOD AND THE BAD
Positive: Promotes normal growth in children, healthy skin and tissue repair; helps in night and color vision. Rich sources of Vitamin A include yellow vegetables, dairy products and liver.
Negative: Chronic overdose of Vitamin A can lead to bone pain, vision changes and liver damage.
Positive: Several different B vitamins each serve a different purpose. The overall functions of B vitamins are to promote red blood cell formation, help with replication of cells and other metabolic functions. Children get most of their B vitamins from enriched cereals, meat, poultry, soybeans, milk, and eggs.
Negative: Over supplementing Vitamin B can lead to nausea, jaundice and liver damage.
Positive: Forms and strengthens connective tissue, muscles and skin. Vitamin C is important for
healing wounds and bones, and as a defense against infections. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes and vegetables like sprouts, potatoes and broccoli. Without Vitamin C, individuals may develop sores that do not heal. Lack of Vitamin C is also the primary cause of scurvy.
Negative: An overdose of Vitamin C is not as dangerous as other vitamins since most excess is excreted through the urine; however, too much Vitamin C may cause nausea.
Positive: Helps in the formation of teeth and bones and absorption of calcium. Most children get Vitamin D from fortified dairy products and through exposure to sunlight. A Vitamin D deficiency can result in a child developing rickets, weak bone formation.
Negative: Vitamin D overdoses can cause hypercalcemia, where calcium levels are too high and can cause nausea and decreased appetite.
Positive: Calcium ensures healthy bones and is found in low fat cheese, yogurt, milk and some vegetables. Calcium is especially critical for girls ages 10 to 13, which may affect developing osteoporosis later in life. If she is not getting enough dairy and calcium, a supplement is important.
Negative: Calcium in excess amounts can cause kidney stones and heart arrhythmia.
Positive: Iron helps in the formation of red blood cells and development of muscles. Iron deficiency affects development, impairs a child’s ability to function and leads to anemia. Iron is obtained by eating meat and vegetables like spinach; most cereals and flour are now enriched with iron. Be aware, most signs and symptoms of iron deficiency in children don’t appear until iron deficiency anemia occurs.
Negative: Excess iron causes constipation with the iron deposited into the liver, pancreas and other organs causing damage to these organs.
Protein is a necessary building block for all cells in the body; however, most children do not need protein powders in addition to their diets. Children with a well-balanced diet that includes meats receive all necessary protein and not require supplementation. However, for children on a vegetarian diet, a protein powder may help. A vegetarian diet is not encouraged for children since it is not a balanced diet.
Fish oil, touted as brain food, may help prevent heart disease and diabetes. However the American Academy of Pediatrics states not enough evidence exists to support fish oil as necessary and given as a supplement.
Most doctors and the American Academy of Pediatrics deem the best source of nutrients is regular meals that provide all the nutrients most children need. Dr. Woods reiterates, “… the most important thing is not to replace vitamins, but to consume them through a well-balanced diet. The one exception being infants who are exclusively breast-fed. Other than that, children with certain vitamin deficiencies need to be seen by their pediatrician, on a case by case basis, to discuss proper vitamin replacements.”