One of the most common questions that I hear from parents and caregivers is "Should I give my child supplements?"
Originally I was 'team no supplements'. I have kids that eat appropriate quantities and well rounded meals year long, so there shouldn't be a need.
However, when my then 5 year old daughter was experiencing some digestive issues, I had some nutrient testing completed (side not: send me a message if you want to learn more about non-invasive testing for kids) and found she had multiple nutrient deficiencies despite my efforts.
A very nutrient dense, diverse diet for children will provide most of the nutrients they need to thrive.
However, there are some key points we need to consider in regards to the foods that we feed ourselves and families and whether or not we may need to provide additional supplements/vitamins.
Factors that impact Need for Supplementation:
Quality of soil
Studies have found that the nutrients in our food have shown a steady decline since 1950. That means that a conventional apple today has less vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in it that a conventional apple grown a few decades ago. Organic farming is helping to combat this, as well as remineralizing soil for new crops.
Quality of foods
When it comes to quality of the food we eat, it's always best to focus on whole, real foods. Highly processed foods and processed sugar do not provide adequate nutrients that are needed. The variation helps support our diverse microbiome.
While still controversial, studies have found that organic foods do have different nutrient values when compared to conventional foods! Specifically, levels of antioxidants are between 20-40% higher in organically grown foods. For tips on buying organic vs conventional foods check out the Environmental Working Group's Clean 15 and Dirty 12 lists.
Gut Health Integrity
The famous quote from Hippocates "All disease begins in the gut" is not wrong. Dozens of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients are absorbed in the digestive system. If our gut is not working optimally, then we do not appropriately digest and absorb the nutrients from our foods. This can cause big problems!
Over use of antibiotics, stress, autoimmune disease, toxin exposure, underlying infections, and allergies can all negatively impact gut health and your ability to absorb nutrients adequately.
Some of the Nutrients absorbed in digestive tract include:
Vitamin A, D, E, K
Vitamin B6, B12
To help maintain the integrity of our gut health include gut supportive foods such as collagen, broth, and ghee.
Environmental factors play just as large of a role on our health, if not more so, then genetics. If you have a strong family history of chronic disease, autoimmune issues, allergies, etc. you want to take this into consideration. An example of this is a mother that has the genetic mutation for MTHFR (genetic mutation that impacts methylation processes in the body) most likely passed one or both genes to her child(ren). Supporting your child's health with appropriate foods is always the first form of action, but they may need supplementation.
Highly processed foods and processed sugar can increase levels on inflammation as well as impact the other types of foods we consume. One study reported that "not only do added sugars displace nutritionally superior foods in the diet, but they also deplete nutrients from other foods that have been consumed as well as from body stores..."
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kombucha, miso, tempeh, kefir and yogurt provide probiotics that your digestive system needs to keep your microbiome diverse and working optimally. When our gut bacteria is not diverse or has the wrong types of bacteria it can cause digestive issues like bloating, gas, pain etc and can lead to other illnesses.
Where you live
Your geographical location can impact food availability which directly impacts what types of nutrients you are consuming. If you can't purchase fresh berries or high quality vegetables year long then certain nutrients may not be as prominent in your diet.
Furthermore, your location is significant for Vitamin D absorption. Specifically if you live in the northern hemisphere you are more at risk for Vitamin D deficiency.
For most children, including my own, I recommend basic, supportive supplements for overall health. If they start to show signs of an oncoming illness, I add in a few immune boosting supplements as well, which I will be discussing below.
As a reminder please consult your physician or dietitian that knows your child's medical history for further recommendations.
Daily supplements that I recommend for most children, mine included are pictured above.
Multivitamin- helps fill in the nutrient gaps due to poor soil, lack of variety, picky eaters etc. At home I use Smarty Pants organic multivitamin because this is one of the only ones both of my kids will take consistently. It also contains methylated B vitamins (including folate instead of folic acid).
Vitamin D- most kids will need a supplement from infancy due to geographical location, sunscreen use, wearing clothing and living in doors. I prefer this Thorne Vitamin D3/K2 liquid combo. Supports healthy immune function as well as bone and dental health.
Probiotic- If your child eats fermented foods daily you can skip this one! Probiotics maintain gut bacteria diversity which helps keep us healthy! Try this kids childrens therbiotic chewable from Klaire Labs especially if your child doe snot eat fermented foods consistently.
L-Glutamine - Optional but helps support the intestinal lining to reduce symptoms from inflammation and food sensitivities. We use a small amount (ask for dosing) of Designs for Health powder in a drink almost daily.
Immune Boosting Add-Ons:
If my child starts to come down with a runny nose or signs of getting sick I add these 2 supplements to their current regimen.
Vitamin C-Many studies support the use of Vitamin C for preventing and cold and flu symptoms. This research article shows that Vitamin C is very effective in preventing illness and shortening days of illness by boosting immune system function. I typically like Buffered Vitamin C or Liposomal Vitamin C, but my kids prefer this chewable by Country Life.
Vitamin A- Vitamin A is an important vitamin in preventing and shortening cold and flu symptoms, supporting a healthy immune system, and supports skin and bone health. However, because Vitamin A is fat soluble, taking too much can be problematic because it stays in your liver. For dosing please refer to the NIH recommended dosage by age. I love the Seeking Health Vitamin A drops that you can find here.
If you are considering supplementation for your child I hope this helped guide you in the right direction. Please post a comment or reach out directly if you need additional assistance.
Wishing you health and happiness