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Vitamins for Kids - Beyond Children's Multivitamins

Vitamins and Supplements

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Updated July 22, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Vitamins

All kids need vitamins and minerals to be healthy and grow normally.

They need vitamin D, iron, calcium, and fluoride, etc., or they will eventually develop signs and symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Not all children need vitamin or mineral supplements though, as children can get most or all of these important vitamins and minerals from the foods they eat, as long as they eat a well balanced diet following the principles of the food pyramid.

Vitamins for Kids

Many parents think that their kids need extra vitamins and supplements. Many of them don't, though. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that "healthy children receiving a normal, well-balanced diet do not need vitamin supplementation." They should be able to get the recommended daily allowances of all of the vitamins and minerals they need from their diet.

Of course, some children don't eat a "normal, well-balanced diet."

Talk to your pediatrician if you think your kids might need a vitamin supplement, especially if they:

  • are very picky eaters (multivitamin and mineral supplement)
  • are missing out on one or more food groups from the food pyramid, such as vegetables or meat (multivitamin)
  • don't drink enough milk or eat other dairy products (vitamin D and calcium)
  • drink too much milk and not enough other foods (iron)
  • are vegan (may need vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, Calcium, and Zinc if they don't get enough in fortified foods)
  • eat a lot of junk food (multivitamin and mineral supplement)
  • don't drink fluoridated water (fluoride)
  • have a medical condition, such as Short bowel syndrome, malabsorption, or cystic fibrosis, etc., that could lead to problems absorbing vitamins or minerals from the foods they eat (multivitamin and/or mineral supplements)
  • are taking certain anti-seizure medications (vitamin D)
  • are on a restricted diet because of multiple food allergies or some other medical condition

When they need a vitamin, most kids can take a daily children's multivitamin, which should have the recommended daily allowance of all of the vitamins and minerals they might need, including vitamins A, C, D, and K, the B vitamins, iron, and calcium.

Keep in mind that not all multivitamins have the same number of vitamins and minerals as others. For example, Centrum Kids Chewables Multivitamin has 23 different vitamins and minerals, but some other multivitamins, especially gummy vitamins, only have nine.

If you're giving your kids a vitamin supplement, be sure that it actually includes the vitamins and minerals that they need. And you don't necessarily need to give your child a multivitamin if he is only missing one or a few vitamins or minerals, like iron, vitamin D, and/or calcium. Find a supplement that only has the specific vitamins or minerals your child needs instead.

Vitamins for Kids: Beyond Multivitamins

Whether or not you give your kids a general multivitamin, you might also be wondering about additional vitamins and supplements for your kids, such as:

  • Fish Oil: The food pyramid recommends that kids eat 'fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring,' because fish oil may help prevent coronary artery disease. Because many kids don't eat these kinds of fish, and some parents believe that fish oil may also promote brain development and help prevent other diseases, many give their kids a high omega-3 fish oil supplement with DHA and EPA. Although they are not thought to be harmful, giving kids fish oil supplements is a little controversial, as not all studies have shown that they have any benefit.

  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a very important vitamin that helps children develop strong bones and protects adults from developing osteoporosis (weak bones that break easily). That makes it important for kids to take a vitamin D supplement with 400 IU of vitamin D if they don't get enough foods in their diet that are fortified with vitamin D. Most children don't need higher doses of vitamin D, though, and the AAP recommends that those who do should have their vitamin D status checked (serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and parathyroid hormone levels).

  • Gummy Vitamins: Parents often give their kids gummy vitamins because these are the only type of vitamins that their kids will take. It is easy to understand why, as many 'gummies' are like candy. In fact, one gummy vitamin is made with 'Jolly Rancher Sour' flavors. That makes it important to keep these types of vitamins out of your kids' reach, so that they don't take more than the recommended amount and get an overdose of vitamins. Keep in mind that gummy vitamins don't have iron, an important mineral that many kids who take supplements usually need, and most don't have calcium.

  • Vitamin C: Almost all vitamins for kids, whether they are chewable multivitamins or gummy vitamins, are going to include vitamin C. Most kids, even the pickiest eaters, get enough vitamin C from their diet, though, as most fruit juices have 100% of your daily requirements of vitamin C in a single serving. What about megadoses of vitamin C for kids? Although some parents consider giving their kids extra vitamin C as a preventative for colds, this is controversial and most experts don't recommend it.

  • Antioxidants (vitamins A, C, and E): Like vitamin C, the other antioxidants, vitamins A and E, are sometimes given to kids by their parents as immunity builders to try and prevent infections. As with vitamin C, this is not a proven benefit though. Also, keep in mind that many foods are now fortified with vitamins A, C, and E.

Other Supplements for Kids

Although not a vitamin or mineral, some other supplements that parents consider giving their kids can include:

  • Fiber: Many kids, especially those that don't eat fruits and vegetables, likely don't get enough fiber in their diet. The latest recommendations are that kids should eat about 14g of fiber for every 1,000 calories they eat. Those with a low fiber diet often have problems with constipation and stomach pains. If your kids can't get enough fiber by eating high-fiber foods, they might benefit from a fiber supplement, such as Benefiber, Citrucel, or Metamucil. There are even fiber gummies for younger kids.
  • Probiotics: Another popular supplement for kids are the probiotics, such as Culturelle for Kids and FlorastorKids. Probiotics, which are also present in many brands of yogurt, are thought to work by modifying the number of bacteria living in our gastrointestinal tract, thereby increasing the number of beneficial gut bacteria and preventing the growth and overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Keep in mind that except for use in kids with acute diarrhea, like from a stomach virus, they have no real proven benefit so far, so you might wait until more research is done before offering probiotics to your kids on a regular basis.

As with vitamins and minerals, talk to your pediatrician if you have questions about other supplements before you give them to your kids.

What you Need to Know About Vitamins for Kids

Should you give your kids extra vitamins and minerals or other supplements? If they need them, then sure. For example, toddlers who are such picky eaters that they are totally missing out on some food groups may need a multivitamin, teens who don't drink milk may need vitamin D and calcium supplements, and kids who are constipated often benefit from extra fiber supplements.

The benefit of many other supplements, such as probiotics, antioxidants, fish oil, and extra vitamin C, is less clear-cut. Often though, if they aren't making kids feel any better, they do at least make their parents feel reassured that they are doing something extra to keep them healthy.

To make informed decisions about supplements, also keep in mind that:

  • Gummy vitamins, which are very popular with parents and kids, usually don't have iron or calcium, which are two minerals that many kids who take supplements actually need.
  • Many children's vitamins, even 'complete' multivitamins with calcium, don't contain very much calcium (usually 10 to 20 percent of daily requirements). A more specific calcium supplement, like Tums Kids Antacid/Calcium Supplement, would likely be more helpful if your kids don't eat or drink enough calcium-rich foods.
  • Large amounts of certain vitamins, including vitamins A, C, and D, can lead to serious side effects. Talk to your pediatrician if you are thinking of giving extra doses of any vitamin or mineral to your kids.
  • Some powdered drink mixes, such as Carnation Instant Breakfast Mix, can add extra calcium, iron, and other important vitamins and minerals to a glass of milk, in addition to giving your kids some extra protein and calories. They can be a good alternative for kids who need vitamin supplements but won't regularly take vitamins.
  • Although there are many vitamins and vegetable and fruit juices that claim to give your kids a full serving of vegetables in a pill, gummy, or glass, they usually don't have any fiber. Consider a fiber supplement if these are the main sources of fruits and vegetables that your kids get, unless they are drinking a high fiber 100% vegetable juice and other high fiber foods.


Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. Clinical Report. Prevention of Rickets and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants, Children, and Adolescents. Pediatrics 2008 122: 1142-1152.

American Academy of Pediatrics. Where We Stand: Vitamins. Updated June 2010. Accessed July 2010.

Jenkins DJ. Are dietary recommendations for the use of fish oils sustainable?. CMAJ - 17-MAR-2009; 180(6): 633-7

Kliegman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed.

Mahalanabis, D. Antioxidant vitamins E and C as adjunct therapy of severe acute lower-respiratory infection in infants and young children: a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr - 01-MAY-2006; 60(5): 673-80.

Sethuraman, Usha MD. Vitamins. Pediatrics in Review. 2006;27:44-55.

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