The vast majority of adults in the United States take some sort of dietary supplement, but they aren’t the only ones. According to the CDC, around one-third of children and adolescents also take supplements.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the USDA Dietary Guidelines, there’s no need to give supplements or multivitamins to kids who eat a balanced diet. But there are circumstances when a vitamin or supplement could be beneficial to kids.
Here’s how you can help parents decide whether a vitamin or supplement is right for their child.
Consider medical history
Children with certain medical conditions or circumstances may need supplements to ensure they don’t become deficient in important vitamins and minerals.
Kids who have recently had surgery, for example, may need probiotics or other supplements that help them absorb nutrients. The same goes for children who have cancer.
Those with celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease may not be able to absorb all the nutrients from their regular food, so they may need to supplement with vitamins like iron, zinc, and vitamin D, even if they are eating a balanced diet.
For children with cystic fibrosis, fat-soluble vitamins including vitamins A, D, E, and K can help them absorb more fat.
Parents should speak to their pediatrician about their child’s particular supplement needs, but as a pharmacist, you should be aware of how these conditions affect nutrient absorption.
Another reason a parent might consider adding supplements to their child’s routine is diet.
In particular, kids who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may not be getting all the nutrients they need from their regular meals. Plant-based diets may cause deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
It’s not just plant-based diets that can cause deficiencies. Kids who are extremely picky eaters may also need some help. If a child only wants to eat dinosaur chicken nuggets, a multivitamin may help fill in the gaps and prevent malnutrition.
Provide quality options
One of the best ways you can help parents looking for kids’ supplements is by providing high-quality options at your pharmacy.
Supplements are not evaluated by the FDA, which means the options in the marketplace can vary widely in quality.
Make sure the supplements that you stock have undergone third-party testing. This isn’t a requirement, but some manufacturers voluntarily have their products tested by a third party.
Look for products with a Certificate of Analysis from a group like USP, NSF, Consumer Lab, or the Banned Substances Control Group. A Certificate of Analysis will tell you:
- If the ingredients match what is on the label
- If the dosage matches the label
- If product has been standardized (meaning all batches contain the same thing)
- If the product has contaminants or undeclared ingredients.
Words of warning
Even for kids who need supplements, there can be a few pitfalls. Be prepared to talk parents through these risks.
Being available over the counter doesn’t mean that supplements are safe at any dosage. Certain supplements can be toxic if kids take too many of them.
The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K carry a particularly high risk of toxicity if more than the recommended amount is taken.
Parents should be especially careful with gummy vitamins or supplements that are especially colorful, because kids might start to eat them like candy. Advise parents to talk with their children about appropriate use and to keep supplements out of reach.
Give parents a card with local poison control information on it so they know who to contact in the case of over-consumption.
Some supplements can cause unexpected side effects or create safety concerns. Be ready to counsel parents on the effects of these common supplements:
- St. John’s wort: Can interact with common prescription medications
- Omega-3: Can cause indigestion and other stomach problems
- Guarana and other caffeine-containing supplements: May change heart rate or rhythm
- Melatonin: Little research on long-term effects
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