Supplements for Kids: What Parents and Practitioners Should Know

Sponsored by DaVinci Laboratories

By Matthew Hand, DO

There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation when it comes to recommending supplements for children.

When parents want to know if a specific vitamin or herbal supplement may work to help their child overcome insomnia, ADD symptoms, digestive upset, anxiety, or autism, they often turn to their pediatrician for advice. But some pediatricians and family medical practitioners don’t have a lot of experience with supplements yet.

Common Misconceptions about Pediatric Vitamins

While many scientific studies support the importance of supplementing vitamin D, omega-3 fats, iron, and zinc, it is crucial to make sure patients receive a therapeutic dose.

Supplements labeled “pediatric” often have deficient levels of the necessary vitamins and minerals needed to produce positive results. Kids love these products because they are loaded with sugar, but the nutritional value isn’t there.

This is confusing for parents because they may believe supplements don't work.

For example, if a therapeutic dose for a particular child is 1,000-2,000 mg of omega-3 fats and her parents purchase a pediatric supplement with 50 mg of omega-3 fats in three gummies, the child may have to take the entire bottle in one day to receive a therapeutic dose.

Most children require 1,000 iu per day of vitamin D, but many pediatric versions of this supplement only contain 400 iu. Well-meaning parents are likely to trust that the dose is adequate. They know how important it is for their child to get enough vitamin D, but the prescribed product misleads them.

Iron deficiency is a persistent issue with children in our society. Many practitioners believe low iron levels are one of the driving factors behind ADHD symptoms, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

Supplementing a child’s diet with iron sometimes causes digestive upset, so finding a pediatric iron supplement that kids like and doesn’t cause stomach problems is a relief to parents. However, they would be disappointed to learn the supplement contains only 2 mg of elemental iron when the therapeutic dose for a child is 65 mg.

Many Supplements for Kids Are Low Quality

Many pediatric supplements on the shelves today are little more than candy marketed as health products.

Parents search for safe supplements designed for children, and the word “pediatric” invokes a feeling of safety. It’s crucial for parents to understand that the therapeutic dose may be higher than the stated dosage on the bottles at the pharmacy.

Proprietary blends that list the ingredients but don't disclose the amount of each contained per dose is confusing as well. For example, a product that claims to help kids relax and get a good night’s sleep may list 18 herbs and vitamins, one of which is valerian root. If the therapeutic dose of valerian root is 400 mg and the entire dose has 500 mg, it's safe to assume that the supplement won't deliver a high enough amount to have a positive effect.

Supplements Can Help Fill Nutritional Gaps

Vitamin D is essential to support overall health. In the northeastern United States, 85% of children have a vitamin D deficiency.

It’s nearly impossible to get enough sun to produce the required amount of vitamin D during the winter months. Even during warm weather, time spent indoors and sunscreen prevent the body from producing this crucial vitamin.

It’s tough for kids to eat enough of the right kinds of food with vitamin D, too. Fatty fish and liver are not staples in most kids’ diets. Vitamin D fortified cereal, orange juice, and dairy products increase intake, but it still isn’t enough.

Canadian practitioners recommend younger kids get between 600-3,000 iu per day, and teenagers 2,000 iu per day. Vitamin D-fortified milk and orange juice offer 100 iu in an 8-ounce serving, so it’s difficult for kids to ingest enough vitamin D fortified foods to get a therapeutic dose of this vital nutrient.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fats are potent anti-inflammatories that are sometimes referred to as “nature’s Motrin.”

An ideal diet would include adequate omega-3s, but few people are willing to eat enough flaxseed and fish to get the amount they need each day. High mercury levels in predatory fish are a valid concern for parents as well.

Zinc

There’s a link between low zinc levels and symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADD in children. Supplementing with zinc also supports immune response, which is essential for overall health.

While it would be great if kids would eat enough of the right foods to provide all these essential vitamins and minerals without having to take supplements, many children eat processed foods because they are virtually everywhere. Kids dealing with issues like ADHD or insomnia have an even more significant challenge when it comes to eating food that provides them with the extra nutritional support they need.

Prebiotics & Probiotics

Probiotics get a lot of attention for their ability to support a healthy microbiome.

Gut problems are linked to irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and depression, and unfortunately, we don’t eat a lot of fermented foods in Western culture. An excellent-quality prebiotic/probiotic supplement can help a child overcome serious digestive issues, while attempting to introduce those same helpful bacteria into their diet by providing fermented foods may not be as effective.

The vast majority of medical professionals agree that a child’s ideal diet would provide them with all the nutrition necessary to achieve optimal health. Unfortunately, even parents with the best intentions cannot control everything their child eats. Teenagers prove especially challenging when it comes to meeting their nutritional needs through diet. This is why high-quality supplements in a therapeutic dose provide the nutritional support needed for optimal health in most children.

Little DaVinci offers doctor formulated supplements that enhance the health and wellbeing of kids using quality ingredients.

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About the Author

Matthew Hand, DO graduated from Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1989. He did his pediatric residency and chief residency at Maine Medical Center and then completed his fellowship in pediatric nephrology at Children’s Hospital in Boston. Subsequently he developed the pediatric nephrology division at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center. In 2008 he graduated from Dr Andrew Weil’s Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and created the pediatric integrative medicine division at Maine Medical Center. In 2011, Hand was hired by New Hampshire’s Hospital for Children at the Elliot Hospital to develop the pediatric nephrology division and to create a children’s hospital with integrative medicine as its cornerstone. He has been featured in a number of international television shows including 20/20, the Discovery Channel and the Oprah Winfrey Show.