Easy to Swallow Advice about Vitamins
Recently parents have been asking me vital questions about whether or not their children need vitamins in addition to their normal diet – whatever that may be. Well let me provide some information on vitamins that is relatively easy to swallow.
Vitamins are what we call micronutrients, which means they are needed in very small amounts for the body to function, as compared to the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates which we we call macronutrients.
So who really needs vitamins? Let’s start with babies. Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that – while breast feeding is the recommended way to feed babies – breastfed infants do require supplemental vitamin D to prevent rickets (a bone-softening disorder) since breast milk is not fortified with vitamin D. While sunlight can provide some vitamin D and you might think this would suffice, due to concerns regarding the dangers of excess sun protection in babies combined with the lack of sunlight we often find in the winter, infants may not be getting enough vitamin D from the sun, thus requiring the supplement.
What about after infancy? If children are eating from the four basic food groups, including whole-grain products, fresh fruits or vegetables, dairy products, nuts, , eggs, and/or meats as a protein source, it is unlikely they will need a multivitamin – although it may provide parents with the peace of mind they need not to worry about their child’s eating habits. On the other hand, taking too much of a particular vitamin, or too many vitamins, can come with serious side effects – so these chewable pills or drops are not as harmless as they may seem.
On the other hand, if your child has an underlying chronic disease or has a problem absorbing nutrients, or is a strict vegan vegetarian, then certain vitamin supplement may be required. You should discuss this with your child’s doctor.
Hopefully tips like this will dose out just the right information when it comes to deciding whether or not your child really needs a multivitamin.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids