We all want the best for our children and to help them reach their maximum potential – whether physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.
For me nourishing their bodies with essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals is just another way to show my children how much I love them.
But it’s also worth remembering that the research is clear – providing children’s bodies and brain with enough of the right nutrients can have a profound effect on their development, growth as well as how they think and feel. With that in mind many of my clients ask me whether their children should be taking supplements and if so which ones are best?
Firstly it’s worth looking at the research around certain nutrients and the effect optimal amounts or deficiencies can have on your child’s health.
One area of research where there is plenty of evidence is making sure they get a plentiful intake of the omega-3 fats especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Unfortunately the truth is many children hardly get any of this healthful fat, found primarily in seafood, in their diets. This means many are missing out on this simple opportunity to boost brain performance and overall health.
Various studies have confirmed that boosting your child’s intake of DHA as an infant and into the school-age years may be a simple way to generate measurable improvements in their brain function. Low levels of the omega-3 fat DHA were associated with poorer reading, memory and behavioural problems in healthy school-aged children. Children who consumed an omega-3 fat supplement as infants scored higher on rule learning, vocabulary and intelligence testing at ages 3-5. In addition other studies have also found children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and related behaviour/learning disabilities are more likely to have low omega-3 fat levels, as well as benefit from supplementation.
Remember that omega 3 fats are considered essential. This is because your body cannot produce them, so you must get them from your diet. DHA-rich foods include wild fish and liver. Low levels of these fats can have profound effects on our health and are particularly important in lowering inflammation in the body and maintaining the health of every cell in your body.
While you can get a form of omega-3 (ALA) in flaxseed, chia, hemp, and a few other foods, the most beneficial form of omega-3 – containing the two fatty acids, DHA and EPA, which are essential to brain function – can only be found in fish and krill. While your body can convert ALA into DHA/EPA, it does so at a very low ratio, and only when sufficient enzymes are present. So top of my list for children would be a high quality omega 3 supplement.
But of course it is not just healthy fats which are often low in children’s diets. Vitamins and minerals are often low. Interestingly various studies have indicated that supplementation with vitamins and minerals can improve children’s overall health including IQ.
Vitamin D is another common deficiency. Your skin produces vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, yet during much of the year exposure is not sufficient to maintain optimum levels. Interestingly the UK’s Department of Health recommends children under 5 take a daily vitamin D supplement. Although the amount they recommend is actually very low. Your immune system needs vitamin D to function properly which is why children with adequate vitamin D levels are less likely to catch the flu than children without. Vitamin D even plays a role in the health of your teeth, and children with early childhood caries tend to have lower vitamin D levels than children without. Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with conditions such as asthma and autoimmune conditions.
A report published online on August 20, 2012 in the journal Pediatrics reveals a dramatic decrease in the incidence of wintertime acute respiratory tract infections (ARIs) in children supplemented with vitamin D. Thankfully the Government has now recognised the importance of vitamin D supplementation and I would certainly recommend getting your children tested and supplementing over the winter months.
With the winter months approaching optimising your child’s diet to ensure it contains a whole range of immune supporting nutrients is crucial. Correcting zinc insufficiency through supplementation with vitamin C has been shown in studies to bolster aspects of the immune system involved in fighting viral infections.
Zinc’s antiviral properties may come from its ability to prevent the rhinovirus from attaching to cells in the nasal passages. In addition, zinc has been shown to prevent viral replication, reduce histamine release, and inhibit the production of other inflammatory mediators.
Zinc deficiency may also affect cognitive development in children by influencing attention, activity, neuropsychological behaviour and motor development. The exact mechanisms are not clear but it appears that zinc is essential for the growth and development of neurons (brain cells). Top zinc rich foods include seafood, beef and lamb, pumpkin seeds, spinach and nuts.
These are just a couple of examples of key nutrients that are commonly low in children’s diets.
You may think we can get all the nutrients we need from our diet but time and time again this is shown not to be the case. The National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) conducted by the Government have shown the diets of UK children are particularly lacking in fruit and vegetables, oily fish and fibre. Average intakes of oily fish ranged between 5-10g/week in those aged 4-18 years, which is equivalent to less than 0.1 portion/week; lower than the recommended two portions per week. Data published in 2009 showed that vitamin and mineral supplements made a significant contribution to overall nutrient intakes in children aged 2-17 years. This is why I often recommend a multi nutrient formula with additional protein too.
Probiotics – beyond the gut
Another key area to consider is your child’s gut health. Our Modern Western lifestyle can deplete good bacteria in our gut. Everything from diet to antibiotics to excessive hygiene creates an imbalance of good-to-bad bacteria. Once the good bacteria are destroyed, less beneficial bacteria quickly multiply and open the door for a number of health conditions. Fortunately, strong evidence demonstrates that taking the right mix of probiotics can restore your body’s natural protection against a host of health conditions.
The trouble is the Western diet—high in animal proteins and fats, sugars, and refined carbohydrates—causes a rise in undesirable bacteria. Over use of infant formula instead of breast milk can also affect probiotic levels in our children as well as endless antibiotic treatments.
Although good bacteria can be found in small amounts in food, changing the entire ratio of gut bacteria may require consistent dosing with supplements providing potent levels of bacteria to enable their survival. In addition moving into the winter months colostrum powder can be particularly effective at combatting coughs, colds and flu.
Clinical studies suggest that certain probiotics may help prevent viral respiratory tract infections such as the common cold by supporting the immune system. Some probiotics are associated with a reduction in severity and duration of symptoms caused by common upper respiratory tract infections while other studies highlight their role in helping skin conditions like allergic eczema as well as food reactions.
Of course a nutrient dense healthy diet is the foundation for maintaining and optimising our health. But many of us fall short. Giving the right supplements to your children – whatever their age will help to ensure we nourish them and boost their health long term. If you are concerned about your child’s health book in for a consultation at our clinic.