Back in the Day…Still True Today: Why Children Need Supplements

Fifteen years ago, I wrote this article detailing the woeful gaps in our kids’ nutrition along with the reasons I believe all children need supplements. The advice below is as true today as it was back in 2001, and it highlights why I enthusiastically advocate supplements for kids. Enjoy.

If you’ve raised kids, you know how hard it is to get them to eat right. Every time they turn on the TV they’re bombarded with advertisements for soft drinks, sugary cereals, and snack foods. They’re enticed to visit McDonald’s for the newest toy in the Happy Meal and to play in the restaurant’s “playland.” There seems to be no escaping our junk-food culture. School lunches are often provided by fast-food franchises, and Coke and Pepsi compete with each other to get their vending machines in school hallways and playgrounds.

Parents can do only so much. The battle of wills created by advertising directed at children can be overwhelming—its sole purpose is to get kids to pester their parents to purchase, and it is remarkably successful. Even if you buy nutritious foods and pack healthy lunches, you need only visit the lunchroom of any school to see that much of the fruit, vegetables, and whole-grain bread ends up in the trashcan.

Overfed and Undernourished: Our Children NEED Supplements

This is a shame, for it is during the tremendous growth spurts of childhood that optimal nutrition is most important. You probably know that kids need adequate protein to build muscles and other tissues. They require essential fats for growth, and carbohydrates for energy. However, you may not know that in order for these developmental processes to take place, children also must have adequate supplies of vitamins and minerals.

Multivitamins and minerals work together with enzymes to facilitate the chemical reactions involved in virtually every process in the body. If there is a shortage of a necessary nutrient, critical functions cannot be carried out. For example, zinc is required by the enzyme that converts vitamin A to its active form in the eyes, which explains why zinc deficiencies are linked with vision problems. Vitamin C assists the enzyme that produces collagen, the structural component of our tissues, so without adequate vitamin C, teeth and bones can’t grow properly and wounds heal slowly.

The Answer? Nutritional Supplements for Kids

Every basic nutrition textbook emphasizes the importance of vitamins and minerals for growth and development. Vitamin D and calcium are necessary for bone density, antioxidants for immune function, B vitamins for cell division and growth, and magnesium for energy production—to mention just a few.

Since you are unable to make sure that the children in your life always eat as they should, I suggest you do what I do and insist that your kids take a daily nutritional supplement. It’s an easy way of ensuring that they’re getting enough of the nutrients their growing bodies need.

Nutritional Supplements Make Kids Smarter

It is well established that good nutrition promotes optimal growth and prevents disease, but can nutritional supplements actually make kids smarter? Absolutely! The brain of a newborn contains trillions of neuronal connections, or synapses, many of them incomplete. During the first few years of life, synapses grow at a blistering pace, as babies learn to use their vision and other senses, understand and produce speech, store and recall memories, and develop a longer attention span.

Parents are encouraged to engage their little ones in activities like listening to Mozart and enrolling in baby enrichment classes. In reality, they may serve their children better by attending to their nutritional needs. Although there is scant scientific evidence that such enrichment activities make babies smarter, hundreds of studies underscore the importance of nutrition in cognitive development.

Nutritional Supplements Can Raise IQ

Stephen Schoenthaler, PhD, a professor at California State University, has been researching this topic for years. In one of his studies, Dr. Schoenthaler and his colleagues tested the IQs of 245 schoolchildren between the ages of 6 and 12 in Phoenix, Arizona. They then enlisted teachers to distribute either a multivitamin/mineral supplement or a placebo to these children on a daily basis.

At the study’s conclusion, IQ tests were again administered, and the children who had been taking the nutritional supplements had an average 2.5 point gain in IQ. The truly impressive finding of this study, however, was that the children who were poorly nourished at the study’s onset gained at least 15 IQ points!

The researchers also noted that test scores were closely linked with school performance and suggested that “…parents of schoolchildren whose academic performance is substandard would be well advised to seek a nutritionally oriented physician for assessment of their children’s nutritional status.”

DHA: An Essential Nutritional Supplement for the Brain

One of the most important nutritional supplements for the growing brain and nervous system is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This fatty acid, which is a dominant fat in the brain, is concentrated in nerve cell membranes and synapses, where communication between neurons takes place.

DHA accumulates in the brains of infants in late pregnancy and the first few months of life. It is abundant in breast milk and is added to infant formula, and it remains the most important fat in the brain throughout life. Yet dietary deficiencies of DHA are common. It is most highly concentrated in cold-water fish, and a lot of children, as well as adults, just don’t eat fish.

As a consequence, these children may suffer from attention difficulties, behavior problems, and trouble in school. In a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, children labeled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had significantly lower DHA levels than kids who did not have the behavior problems associated with this disorder.

Supplements for Kids: My Recommendations

Making nutritional supplements a part of your kids’ daily routine is one more way to instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime. The recommended time to begin a chewable supplement is around age four.

Look for supplements for kids that contain a wide range of vital nutrients, including vitamins C, E, A, and beta-carotene, selenium, calcium, vitamin D, folic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12. DHA is not included in multivitamins. Look for a standalone DHA nutritional supplement derived from fish oil or algae (nature’s richest sources).

Stay away from hydrogenated oils and artificial sweeteners, flavors, and colors. Also avoid supplements that contain iron, which can be toxic if taken in large amounts. Supplements are best taken twice a day to ensure a steady supply of water-soluble vitamins and minerals.

Finally, make sure you buy supplements for kids that taste good. When kids are involved, taste is everything.

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