People of all ages need vitamins and minerals to help their bodies grow and stay healthy. So does it really matter how we get them? Most experts say it does: Getting nutrients from a healthy, balanced diet is the way to go. But any parent will tell you that this doesn’t always happen—and some nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and calcium—are too important to miss out on. If you or your child is falling short, a supplement can help you meet your daily requirement. “They’re not a replacement for eating healthy food, but families can use them as a safety net,” says Lawrence Rosen, M.D., an integrative pediatrician and KIWI contributing editor.
What’s right for your family?
If you’ve followed the news lately, taking vitamin and mineral supplements might give you pause. Some recent studies have announced scary links between supplements and higher cancer risk and increased death rates. But that doesn’t mean you automatically have to clear out your cabinet: “When you take a vitamin out of context, it becomes difficult for studies to make any claims or comments,” says Rosen, who points out that much of that recent research has been done on older adults who may have preexisting health problems. The studies also don’t prove a clear cause-and- effect outcome, only an association, says Keri Marshall, a Washington, D.C.–based naturopathic doctor specializing in pediatrics. There could be other things that cause health issues, like the study subjects’ diet and exercise habits. The bottom line: If you or your child is missing out on an important nutrient, the benefits of a supplement outweigh any unproven risks. Talk with your doctor about your lifestyle (you don’t spend much time in the sun, for instance) and the foods you eat on a regular basis. “When a patient has a deficiency or something that suggests a deficiency, I recommend a supplement,” Marshall says.
Choosing safe brands
Since 2007, the FDA has required that all dietary supplements meet current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) regulations, meaning that manufacturers have to test a product’s purity, strength, and composition. But since the waiting period for certification can be long, there are plenty of supplements on store shelves that aren’t (or haven’t yet been) certified, Marshall says. In June 2011, a bill was introduced to Congress that would tighten labeling requirements, obligating manufacturers to register their supplements with the FDA. A potential vote by the House of Representatives or Senate is still a long way off. But since manufacturers are already supposed to verify that their product meets cGMP standards, the bill is essentially an attempt to better enforce existing regulations. “The cGMP standards are high, but the gold standard is for companies to be able to demonstrate true quality control measures, to show where vitamins and minerals are sourced,” Marshall says. So you don’t have to automatically rule out a product because it doesn’t meet cGMPs (remember, a manufacturer could be waiting to have their product certified): A supplement is also acceptable if it’s been verified by a reputable, third- party program like NSF International or U.S. Pharmacopeia, says Marshall. Both certification systems ensure that a supplement contains what the label says it does—and that it’s safe for families to take.
Liquid, chewable, or gummy?
Is one supplement delivery method better than the others? There’s no right answer, but liquids can be better for younger kids because they tend to contain less sugar than gummies; chewables are great for older kids, says Rosen. But we don’t blame kids for preferring the candy-like gummies—just make sure they brush their teeth afterward.
Does your family take vitamins, and if yes, what brands do you purchase? Sound off in the comments section below, or tweet us at @KiwiMagazine!