Have immunity on your mind? These days, who doesn’t? With the two-one punch of winter and the pandemic, keeping the family healthy is paramount. Naturally, you may be considering immune-boosting tablets for your children, but what are the best vitamins and supplements for kids?
Vitamin D is a nutrient all humans need for good health, according to the National Institutes of Health. The fat-soluble vitamin is produced in the body when exposed to sunlight and can be found in many foods like eggs and fortified dairy products. Why is it so important? Because if you don't have enough Vitamin D you can suffer from all kinds of maladies, including rickets. Otherwise known as osteomalacia, rickets is a softening of the bones, and one of the biggest Vitamin D deficient worries in children.
Vitamin D deficiency has also been show to increase the risk of infection, a 2014 Critical care report found. That's why some pediatricians are adamant about kids getting plenty of Vitamin D.
Dr. Meredith Irwin, a pediatrician with Norton Children’s in Louisville, Kentucky, says if a child has a Vitamin D deficiency, then they should take a supplement. Her opinion lines up with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical director and advisor to President Joe Biden.
“If you're deficient in vitamin D, that does have an impact on your susceptibility to infection,” Dr. Fauci told Jennifer Garner, movie star and mother of three, in an Instagram Live chat in September. “I would not mind recommending, and I do it myself, taking vitamin D supplements.”
“The vast majority of people do not need to supplement," says Dr. Irwin says. That's because they get enough already from sunshine and Vitamin D-packed foods.
There is an exception, of course. According to Dr. Irwin, breastfed babies should take a Vitamin D supplement because D is not found in breastmilk. She says this can be done via an easy to use concentrated product that Dr. Irwin recommends to her patients. “I tell them to put a drop on the breast so the baby gets it when they nurse,” she says.
"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vitamin D supplementation all the way down to a brand new baby, especially a breastfed baby, because vitamin D is not readily available in breast milk in the quantities that we want it to be a part of that of a formula fed baby," adds Dr. Tanner Walsh, a pediatrician in Pennsylvania and a member of the the PA Chapter of American Pediatrics Advocacy Committee.
But for your average kid, Dr. Irwin says that unless they live in, say, Alaska with little to no sunlight, drinking 3 to 4 cups of milk a day or playing in the sunshine should suffice in helping them get their recommended Vitamin D.
Vitamin C on the other hand, is another story. “Based on research, we know that taking extra Vitamin C can decrease the duration of a common cold — not COVID. It decreases by about a day in 14% of kids. So that’s not even that much of an effect,” says Dr. Irwin. “The daily needs of a child can easily be met just by eating one or two serving of Vitamin C rich food.” Dr. Irwin says a half cup of strawberries can do the job.
"Vitamin C is very easily found in citrus fruit, berries, apples, potatoes, peppers, kiwis, and broccoli, so that's a big list to choose from," says Dr. Walsh. "If you want to supplement your child with vitamin C, it's not really going to hurt them. Of course, you would never want to overdo it with any of the vitamins."
For her part, Dr. Irwin says sticking to fruits and vegetables is the way to go, adding, “I would not recommend giving a child Vitamin C supplements. It’s a waste of money.”
And that speaks to her thoughts on the greater vitamin industry as it pertains to children.
“Talk to your doctor about being on a vitamin as there are some conditions that might not be safe,” says Dr. Irwin. “Don’t just grab all these vitamins over the counter.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics, “AAP would tell parents to call their pediatrician if they have questions about their child.”
How about a Multivitamin?
All of this information might lead a parent to wonder, "should I nix vitamins for my kids altogether unless they're deficient?" Not necessarily, says Dr. Walsh.
"It doesn't hurt to give your child a multivitamin every day," says Dr. Walsh. "But make sure it contains iron."
"Remember that anemia is really a bad thing for a kid," she explains. "In order for your cells in your brain to grow, you need oxygen. And oxygen is carried by hemoglobin. And when you don't have enough hemoglobin, then you're what's called anemic. So it's super important to make sure that kids are not anemic. And so always adding that iron into your multivitamin is always a great idea."
That said, Dr. Walsh urges parents to carefully review the recommended doses of children's multivitamins by age range and stick to them. Also, she suggests not introducing gummy vitamins until a child is older than three because, due to their candy-like nature, gummies are very attractive to children and they can run the risk of ingesting too many if they get their hands on them unsupervised.
Which is to say, every parent should pause before they consider giving their children over the counter vitamins and supplements. Instead, Dr. Irwin encourages parents to rely on simpler immune-boosting strategies: “Eating healthfully and getting exercise as well as wearing a mask, socially distancing, and hand washing” she says, are the best steps to stay healthy, whether you’re a kid or an adult.
As for Dr. Walsh, she concurs with the above and adds that the only other critical thing you can do right now to boost your child's immune system is keep them on their vaccine schedule. "The last thing we need is for your kid not to get covered, then get measles," she says.
For more information on how to keep kids healthy, visit The American Academy of Pediatrics.
Dr. Meredith Irwin, pediatrician with Norton Children’s
Dr. S. Tanner Walsh, MD, FAAP, Early Career Physician Board Representative, General Pediatrician, paaap.org