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Multivitamins, the way to a child’s health?

By: Melissa Montellano-Ngo, MDMultivitamins, the way to a child’s health?

While watching television, browsing the internet, and doing your grocery, it is likely you encounter ads about multivitamins. These promotions are colorful, catchy, and often feature your child’s favorite cartoon character. As a consumer, you are enticed to buy these products especially if they offer discounts or freebies. But before availing these multivitamins and giving them to your children, consider whether they will really benefit from them.

Based on numerous experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, a large number of children, especially those ages 9 to 11, receive multivitamins but do not really need them. Why is this so? If your child is active, eats different kinds of food, not sick, and have regular check-ups, dietary sources are already sufficient for vitamins and minerals.

Dietary sources of vitamins

Multivitamins facilitate the body’s growth, development, and repair. A child’s body requires these vitamins and minerals only in little amounts and the diet is still the best source.  Below are the top nutrients your child needs and where they are naturally found in food:

  • Vitamin A for healthy eyes, skin, and immunity. High amounts of this vitamin are found in yellow to orange colored vegetables like carrots, squashes, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.  Also found in other vegetables such as broccoli, lettuce, spinach, and water spinach (kangkong).
  • Vitamin B’s, specifically Vitamin B2 (thiamine), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), and B12 (cyanocobalamin). These vitamins are for energy, good metabolism, and healthy nervous and circulatory systems. Good sources include meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans, whole grains, cereals, and bananas.
  • Vitamin C promotes immunity and ensures healthy skin, connective tissue, and muscles. Also known as ascorbic acid, this nutrient is abundant in citrus fruits, tomatoes, melons, strawberries, bell peppers, and broccoli.
  • Vitamin D produces strong bones and teeth. It is found in milk, eggs, mushrooms, liver, and fatty fishes such as salmon and mackerel.
  • Calcium promotes strong bones and teeth. It is also necessary for the proper function of muscles and nerves, and secretion of hormones and enzymes. Sources include dairy products, tofu, Chinese cabbage (bok choy), spinach, okra, and broccoli.
  • Iron is essential for red blood cell formation and aids the muscle in the storage and use of oxygen.  Iron is found in red meat, chicken, seafood, soybeans, peas, dark green leafy vegetables, and raisins.

When to give vitamins?

Multivitamins are classified as supplements and are therefore not meant to replace diet. However, with today’s hectic lifestyle, it is not always possible to provide our family with well-balanced home-cooked meals. Kids are often exposed to a lot of processed foods and meals from fast food chains. Children stay a good number of hours at school and we cannot fully control what they consume.

Aside from these, there are a number of conditions why physicians would recommend multivitamin supplements. Parents of underweight children or of those who are eating poorly or picky eaters are advised to give multivitamins. A purely vegan diet without meat, dairy products, or eggs may put a child at risk for protein, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12 deficiencies. Kids who consume lots of carbonated drinks, sports beverages, and other sugar-loaded liquids are often too full to eat or have the nutrients gained from food washed away by the chemicals found in their drinks. Sick children, especially with chronic conditions such as tuberculosis and anemia, may also benefit from supplemented micronutrients.

Are you giving the correct multivitamin dose?

Vitamins are classified as either water-soluble or fat-soluble. Vitamins such as vitamin B and C are water soluble. These nutrients are easily dissolved in water and are readily utilized by the body. These vitamins do not accumulate in the body since any amount in excess will be excreted in the urine. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins are absorbed in the small intestines and excess amounts not used are stored in the liver. Fat-soluble vitamins can cause toxicity since these are harder to excrete and they may accumulate in large amounts in the liver.

A prescription is not required to buy vitamins. Multivitamins can be bought over-the-counter and are considered generally safe. However, moderation is the key to ensuring your child is getting the best out of multivitamins. If given in excess of what is advised by your physician or the dosage instructed in the product, your child may be in danger of a toxic overdose. It is important to take note if your child is not exceeding the Recommended Energy and Nutrient Intakes (RENI) or recommended daily intake if you are providing several supplements.

Children who are administered large doses of vitamins or megavitamins, especially fat-soluble vitamins, may suffer from nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and liver and nerve disorders. Parents should likewise be wary of giving large amounts of vitamin C to fight off coughs and colds. Studies have shown that aside from nausea and stomach cramps, ascorbic acid in megadoses can cause diarrhea and headache.

Multivitamins can come in various forms such as liquid, capsule, tablet, and even as gummies for children. In dispensing the liquid form, it is better to use a measuring spoon or cup so as not to exceed the recommended amount. Keep multivitamins away from the children’s reach to prevent them from eating more than their fair share of gummy vitamins for the day.  Chewables, gummies, and other candy-looking vitamins are also best stored away to prevent inappropriate consumption and possible choking in children less than 2 years of age.

Other practical advice for multivitamin supplementation

Apart from ensuring the correct dosage of multivitamins based on your child’s age, you should watch out for unnecessary additives such as artificial color and flavoring and high amounts of sugars such as glucose or corn syrup. Other preparations may contain sorbitol which is an artificial sweetener. If taken in excessive amounts, sorbitol acts as a laxative and causes diarrhea.

For proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and prevention of stomach pain from acidic preparations, it is best to administer multivitamins after meals. Moreover, there are certain vitamins and minerals which may interact with medications and lower or heighten their effects. It is best to seek a doctor’s advice before giving multivitamins particularly if your child has asthma, digestive problems, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD), or bleeding disorders.

Before purchasing and administering multivitamins, check for the expiration date and whether the product came from a reputable manufacturer. Consumers should be extra careful prior to buying from online sources. Verify first if the product is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) locally or registered in the United States Pharmacopeia (USP).

Multivitamins and diet are partners in your child’s health

Vitamins are considered generally beneficial. However, just because they are considered only food supplements does not mean that you can give your children vitamins left and right. Information about their benefits, daily requirements and risks are essential in ensuring that multivitamins are used safely and in the right way.

In this day and age, the availability of multivitamin supplements is a godsend for busy parents. But, it should be noted that the best vitamins come from a variety of food sources and from nutritious home-cooked meals. Spending time in preparing meals and having these meals together as a family provides your child the nutrients that he needs, as well as the love that your child deserves.

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