Vitamins for Kids & Babies: Pros & Cons



  Pediatrician, VIPediatRx   

Editor's Note:  Straight from the Source is a series. These Question and Answer sessions allow readers access to the thoughts of Houston's top experts. Dr. Kennedy-Nasser is a Houston pediatrician and mother of four children.

ParentsPost:  Why should parents consider vitamins and supplements for their children? What are the pros and cons?


DR. KENNEDY-NASSER:  Currently, there is a fairly big vitamin debate! Children with clearly defined vitamin deficiencies (or those at risk) should take appropriate supplementation when diet alone is insufficient. There is no doubt that vitamins and minerals play an important role in the overall nutrition and health of your child, but what may be less clear is how much he or she is getting from their diet. In children with poor eating habits, those on special diets, including vegetarian or vegan diets, or those with certain vitamin deficiencies, supplementation may be necessary. I believe a daily children's multivitamin can be of benefit, particularly for those picky pasta or pizza eaters out there.


ParentsPost:  What are possible diseases caused by vitamin or mineral deficiencies?


DR. KENNEDY-NASSER:  When a child has a vitamin or mineral deficiency, the effects may be far reaching and impact the overall health of the child. Different vitamins and minerals are responsible for various functions of the body, and when those levels are affected, the corresponding functions may suffer as a result. For instance, vitamin D promotes tooth and bone formation and regulates the absorption of minerals like calcium, while iron is essential for the production of red blood cells and the building of muscles. Diseases like rickets and anemia can result from a lack of these two essentials.


ParentsPost:  What should parents look for when reading the labels of different brands of vitamins?


DR. KENNEDY-NASSER:  When choosing a multivitamin, it's important to read labels and discuss your selection with your pediatrician. Often claims like "complete" are misleading since the FDA does not evaluate vitamin supplement labels, and may not actually contain all of the vitamins and minerals recommended for children. Also, many gummy varieties list corn syrup as the first ingredient. In my practice, I usually recommend vitamins tailored to each particular child rather than just suggesting a multivitamin.  


ParentsPost:  Are Omega-3 and DHA supplements necessary?


DR. KENNEDY-NASSER:  I am a big fan of the Omega-3s. The health benefits are overwhelming for every age group from birth to old age, and they are becoming an increasingly important tool in mainstream medicine.  For children, diets rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA have been linked to improved cognitive and brain development, improved cardiovascular health, and decreased risks of asthma, ADHD, depression, and diabetes.

ParentsPost:  Take us through the first few months and first few years - what vitamins and minerals do kids need most and when while growing up.

DR. KENNEDY-NASSER:  As a child grows and changes, their needs may change as well. Infants, for instance, who exclusively breastfeed may not receive adequate vitamin D, and we typically prescribe vitamin D drops for this purpose. Vitamin D promotes absorption of calcium and phosphorous from the gastrointestinal tract. The risk of vitamin D deficiency in young children includes the development of rickets, a softening and weakening of the bones, leading to skeletal deformities, typically of the leg bones. Iron is another mineral commonly lacking in a child's diet and may require supplementation. Infants and children at the highest risk of iron deficiency include babies born prematurely, babies who drink cow's milk before age 1, breast-fed babies who aren't given complementary Iron-rich foods after age 6 months, babies who drink formula not fortified with iron, children over 1 year who drink more than 24 ounces of milk per day, children with certain health conditions, such as chronic infections or restricted diets, and adolescent girls whose bodies lose iron during menstruation.

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