Does My Child Need Vitamins?

By Jennifer Gruen, MD

This is one of our most commonly asked questions at well-child checkups.

Vitamins and minerals are important elements of the total nutritional require­ments of your child. Because the human body itself is unable to produce ade­quate amounts of many vitamins, they must be obtained from the diet. The body needs these vitamins in only tiny amounts, and in a balanced diet they are usually present in sufficient quantities in the foods your youngster eats.

Breast fed infants need vitamin D supplementation until they are able to eat foods containing at least 400 IU of vitamin D a day. Children in homes with well water may need a fluoride supplement to support dental health — ask your dentist or us for a prescription if your child does not consume fluoridated water elsewhere, such as school or daycare. Otherwise, in middle childhood, supplements are rarely needed.

For some youngsters, however, we may recommend a daily sup­plement. If your child has a poor appetite or erratic eating habits, or if she con­sumes a highly selective diet (such as a vegetarian diet containing no dairy products), a vitamin supplement should be considered.

These over-the-counter supplements are generally safe; nonetheless, they are drugs. If taken in excessive amounts (in tablets, capsules, or combined with other supplements), some supplements — particularly the fat-soluble vita­mins (A, D, E, and K) — can be toxic. Scientists are finding that in some special situations and diseases, vitamin supplementation can be an important con­tributor to health.

However, so-called megavitamin therapy or orthomolecular medicine — in which vitamins are given in extremely large doses for conditions ranging from autism to hyperactivity to dyslexia — has no proven scientific validity and may pose some risks. Vitamin C, for example, when consumed in megadoses in hopes of undermining a cold, can sometimes cause headaches, diarrhea, nausea, and cramps.

As much as possible, try to maximize the vitamins your child receives in her regular meals. Click here to read more about some of the vitamins and minerals necessary for normally growing children, vitamin rich foods and recommendations for specific supplements.

Dr. Gruen opened her practice, Village Pediatrics, in 2009, but prefers spending time creating fantastic kids birthday parties.

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