A naturopathic doctors approach to supplementation in children.
With the start of a new school year, parents often wonder how they can optimize their child’s nutrition. Should supplements be used to improve learning and behaviour? How about immune support? Can vitamins be used to improve athletic performance and energy? Or can we get all of our nutrients through diet?
The simple answer to these questions are - we don’t generally have to supplement in healthy kids that eat well balanced diets. However, depending on what your child is eating on a daily basis, and their individual health needs, supplements may be necessary. In this article I hope to clear up some questions around vitamin supplementation, and provide basic guidelines for when it is appropriate.
In an ideal world, the goal would be get all of our essential nutrients through food. However, due to ‘picky’ eating, many children do not eat enough healthy foods to get the vitamins and minerals they need. Also, with the realities of ‘soil depletion’ due to intensive modern agricultural methods that strip nutrients from the soil, we’re seeing that our fruits and veggies aren’t as nutritious as they once were.
To get the optimal nutritional value from our food I recommend eating organic whenever possible. The farming practices of organic crops are less intensive, they avoid pesticides and herbicides, and they regularly practice crop rotation. All of these methods increase the nutrient density of the soil, and thus our food.
Along with eating organic foods, you want to look at eating a well-rounded diet to ensure you are getting the balance of vitamins and minerals the body needs. As a general guideline for healthy eating, I encourage my patient’s to follow Harvard’s School of Public Health’s ‘The Healthy Eating Plate.’
Think of the ‘Healthy Eating Plate’ as a template for a typical meal for you and your family, which includes:
Filling half you plate with brightly coloured fruits and vegetables.
Save a quarter of your plate for WHOLE grains.
Pick a healthy source of protein for one quarter of your plate.
Enjoy healthy fats for cooking or salad dressings.
Now, if you find that your child is a ‘picky’ eater and it’s hard to maintain this general template, or that eating organic food isn’t always feasible, a good quality multi-vitamin would be indicated to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
Here’s a list of ingredients that you should look for in a high quality, physician grade children’s multi-vitamin. The product contains the most bio-available forms of all the B-vitamins, and the most absorbable forms of calcium, magnesium iron and zinc. It also contains a higher amount of vitamin D (1000IU) then most regular non-physician grade multi-vitamins.
Supplementing beyond a multi-vitamin depends on the individual child, and their health needs. You should always talk to your naturopathic physician about whether or not supplementation is needed, and what doses are appropriate for your child’s age and weight.
Below I’ve outlined 5 children’s supplements I commonly recommend in my naturopathic practice above and beyond a multi-vitamin.
Probiotics have primarily been studied for their benefits on the digestive tract and immune system. However, new research is emerging suggesting that these ‘good’ bacteria may also be beneficial for mood, brain health, cardiovascular health and metabolic function.
A broad-spectrum probiotic is often recommended for children with digestive concerns (ie. IBS, IBD, constipation, diarrhea, colic), malabsorption issues, chronic infections (ie. ear infections, colds, coughs), and atopic disease (ie. eczema, allergies, asthma). Probiotics can also be used for general prevention of colds and flus.
2) Omega 3
Omega 3 fatty acids have been found to have a myriad of health benefits, including improving mood, cognition, and behavior, decreasing inflammation, improving skin health, and preventing against cardiovascular disease.
In children, omega 3 fatty acids are recommended in cases of inflammatory skin concerns (ie. eczema, psoriasis, acne), asthma, digestive concerns, and mood and behavioral concerns (ie. depression, anxiety, ADHD).
The active components of omega 3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are derived from cold-water fatty fish and marine microalgae.
The family of B vitamins including B1, B2 B3, B5, B6, B9, and B12 aid in cellular energy production, nervous system function, red blood cell health, DNA replication, cardiovascular health, and neurotransmitter production.
In children, a multi-b vitamin can be used to improve energy, cognition, and athletic performance.
B vitamins can also be recommended individually for a variety of health concerns:
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is often used to treat migraine headaches.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is commonly used to treat anxiety, depression and ADHD.
Vitamins B9 (folate) and B12 (methylcobaliamin) are recommended in cases of megaloblastic anemia.
Vitamin B12 on it’s own can be used to improve cognition and mood in cases of deficiency. Children who eat vegan diets should supplement with vitamin B12 to prevent deficiency.
4) Calcium & Magnesium
Calcium and magnesium are crucial for healthy bone and teeth development, efficient nervous system and muscle function, and overall cardiovascular health.
A calcium magnesium supplement is often recommended for children in cases of chronic constipation, sleep issues, and muscle tension. Furthermore, magnesium on it’s own has been studied for reducing headaches, and improving anxiety and behavior in children with ADHD.
Children who eat vegan diets, or have to avoid dairy due to allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities often have to supplement with calcium and magnesium to prevent deficiencies.
5) Immune Syrup
To boost a child’s immune system in cases of ear infections, colds, coughs, and flus I often recommend a kid friendly immune syrup in addition to a good quality probiotic.
Common ingredients in immune boosting syrups include elderberry, echinacea, zinc and beta-carotene.
The syrup can be used at the onset of symptoms to shorten the duration and reduce the intensity of the viral infection, and to prevent against secondary bacterial infections.
— Dr. Meghan van Drimmelen, ND | Naturopath Victoria BC
*Originally published on Dr. Meghan's Blog