Using Nutritional Supplements with Children
by Kelly Dorfman, LN.
Children who are distractible or have developmental delays need more nutrients than non-affected youngsters. The higher nutritional needs may be due to one or more of the following:
- poor absorption due to gastrointestinal issues and/or allergies;
- self-restricted diets during critical developmental periods;
- impaired ability to detoxify environmental chemicals and pollutants;
- nutrient deficiencies passed on from their parents.
Parents are justifiably alarmed when a child is eating poorly despite assurances many physicians offer. Poor nutrient intake can decrease intelligence and affect brain functioning, especially if it occurs during the first few years of life. Unfortunately, these indisputable facts are not enough to convince children to eat their whole grains and vegetables. The best most parents can do is offer consistently good choices and eliminate heavily processed, artificially colored and flavored foods.
For those who have successfully removed junk foods from the family diet, what is left is often processed starches and fruits. Many are afraid to try to adjust the menu further, no matter how unbalanced, for fear that children will eat nothing. One mother of a two year old with a pervasive developmental disorder reported that her son ate only custard, rejecting every other food.
One logical step is to close nutritional gaps with the therapeutic use of supplements. Nutritional supplements are widely available, but their use in children is not well understood and can be intimidating. Doctors often confuse the situation further by expressing concern over the potential toxicity of vitamins. In fact, vitamins have a long history of safe and efficacious use with the notable exceptions of fat soluble Vitamin A and iron. Both can be toxic and should be used with caution and under supervision.
Discuss your dietary supplement program with a doctor or other knowledgeable health professional. The right person can help you develop a good balance of nutrients for your individual situation. An easy place to start is with a multiple vitamin with at least two or three times the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of B vitamins with added trace minerals. A calcium and magnesium supplement should also be considered, especially if milk products have been reduced or eliminated.
Minerals should not be taken in amounts larger than RDA without good reason. Unlike vitamins, they are not broken down or excreted when taken in excess. Commercial vitamin formulas for children tend to be too low in minerals except iron; when using adult minerals, exercise caution.
Finding the right nutrient balance is an art. Most vitamins and food factors such as Dimethyl Glycine (DMG) and pycnogenol are very safe, so the levels can be adjusted to fit the child‘s needs. DMG has been shown to improve language output, but can also increase self- stimulatory behavior. In general, children become irritable if given too much of a supplement. Folic acid can act as an antidote to the DMG, allowing it to work without agitating the nervous system.
Once supplements have been decided upon, the next step is how to deliver them into the body. Many children find it difficult to swallow pills. Some parents have found they can successfully hide the contents of pull-apart capsules in juice, but this can leave a gritty residue that many children reject. Another alternative is putting a supplement formula in a liquid base. Find a compounding pharmacy near you to make up this combination.[Initially published in New Developments: Volume i, Number 4 - Spring, 1996]