For some, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about supplements is more along the lines of gingko biloba or ephedra than Flintstones vitamins. While it is true that certain blockbuster dietary supplements for adults have found their way into the public spotlight in recent years, the majority of them–with the exception of multivitamins–are not recommended for children.
Before taking a look at the most common form of dietary supplements given to children and discussing their merits and/or risks, it's worth taking a step back and first defining what actually constitutes a supplement. In 1994, Congress defined "dietary supplement" as a product taken by mouth that contains an ingredient (such as vitamins, minerals, and herbs, to name a few) intended to supplement the diet. Offered in a variety of forms ranging from capsules, tablets, and pills to liquids, powders and bars, all dietary supplements must not only be clearly labeled as such, but must identify each of the product's dietary ingredients and refrain from making claims of treating or curing disease on the label.
Supplements for Children
It's important to start out any discussion of supplements for children by saying that most experts agree that dietary supplements–with the exception of multivitamins–are not really necessary for most children (at least under the age of twelve). In fact, many question their effectiveness and voice concerns over their use. While everything from herbal remedies to sports bars tend to be included in the broader definition of supplements, when it comes to children the discussion tends to be focused on the more traditional definition of dietary supplements: multivitamins.
Multivitamins for children have become big business–taking up entire shelves at the stores. In contrast to the unappealing cod-liver oil days of generations past, you've probably noticed that twenty-first century multivitamin manufacturers have not only increased in number, but they've gotten creative. When it comes to good old-fashioned vitamins and minerals conveniently packaged as multivitamins, children are now offered an array of tantalizing shapes, sizes, and colors. Gummy bears and gumballs are some of the latest innovations to hit the scene and seemingly gain instant popularity. It's no wonder that parents nowadays actually find themselves faced not only with the decision of which vitamins to buy (if any), but with children who all but beg for their daily "allowance" of dietary supplements. A few general points to consider include:
- Teach your children right from the start that vitamins are medicine, not candy.
- Just because the government doesn't oversee the sale of supplements in the same way they regulate medicines doesn't mean that you shouldn't treat them both with equal caution. Always store your vitamins alongside your medicines–safely out of reach and in childproof containers.
- Stick to recommended dosing. Vitamin dosing is generally very straightforward, easily found on the package label, and based on clearly defined recommended daily allowances (RDA) of each of their supplemental ingredients.
- When comparing different children's multivitamins–such as gummy bears to generic chewables–simply look at the labels, determine which contain the vitamins and minerals your child needs, and how much of each.
- After you've found a supplemental multivitamin that suits your child's needs, consider cost, taste, and appeal (since the label won't mean anything if you can't get your child to take them!).
- Be aware that it is possible to get too much of a good thing. Even seemingly harmless vitamins can cause serious problems: Too much vitamin C is known to cause diarrhea, while too much vitamin A can cause problems in organs such as the liver and brain, and an iron overdose can even be fatal.