Question sent in by Sal:
‘I recall reading that they aren’t absorbed in the same way real food is. So is there any point in taking them as a supplement and if so which ones matter most’
Jill Wheatcroft answering your question. ‘Is there a point in my child taking vitamin supplements, I recall reading that they aren’t absorbed in the same way real food is. So is there any point in taking them as a supplement and if so which ones matter most’
Such an important question! In a way there are two parts to the answer, the key element that you would like to understand is about Vitamin supplements for children. The second strand which I will also cover is Vitamin supplements for adults.
Our body needs Vitamins in order to function properly and maintain good health, bear in mind that the amounts required are very small. The key 13 Vitamins needed to maintain good health are Vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the eight ‘B’ Vitamins.
Each Vitamin has specific functions in the body: Vitamin C helps to keep cells healthy, Vitamin A is good for eyesight and healthy skin, Vitamin D helps to regulate calcium and is essential for strong bones and teeth, and Vitamin E is needed to maintain cell structure.
With a few exceptions (Niacin and Vitamin D), our bodies cannot make these substances, so we need to ingest them regularly. This can be achieved by eating the correct food or by taking a Vitamin supplement orally. If we do not get enough Vitamins through diet or supplements then we have the potential to develop health problems or a disease, for example, children who lack Vitamin D are susceptible to Rickets. Vitamin deficiencies may need to be treated with injections but this is a rare occurrence in children. The Department of Health recognises not all young children get enough Vitamin A, C and D through their diet.
Add into the mix frequent articles in the press suggesting that people are spending lots of money unnecessarily on Vitamins they do not need and one of the grumbles is that the supplement industry is targeting people who they assume don’t know the facts.
The problem is there isn’t a one size fits all answer to this, adults who eat balanced diets are unlikely to need to supplement their diet unless they have other specific health issues that call for additional Vitamins for example if they are lacking iron. However, when it comes to children the advice is different and varies according to a child’s diet.
The Department of Health advise that breastfed babies from birth to 6 months should be given a daily Vitamin D supplement. However, babies who are having more than 500mls of infant formula every 24 hours should not be given additional Vitamin D as infant formula is already fortified with Vitamin D.
Children from 6 months to 5 years are given daily Vitamin supplements containing A, C and D. Baby Vitamin drops are available free if you qualify for HealthStart. (Don’t be tempted to be over generous with the Vitamin drops give precisely the amount indicated and bear in mind that if you are giving cod liver oil with the supplement that the oil already contains Vitamins A and D
The advice for children over the age of five through to adults is that if your child has a chronic health condition or if you are concerned that they are not getting a sufficiently varied diet (if they are a faddy eater this can happen accidentally) or they have a health problem which stops them absorbing food properly then your Doctor may advise that Vitamin supplements should be continued.
Not quite part of the answer to the question but nevertheless to bear in mind, any women planning a baby or who is pregnant should take Folic acid up to the 12th week of pregnancy – this helps prevent neural birth defects.
Useful to remember that if you are getting enough exposure to the sun then you may need a Vitamin D supplement. Care especially needs to be taken in the winter; it is difficult to get enough Vitamin D through food alone so if you feel your children are not exposed to enough sunlight then you may want to give Vitamin D over the winter period.
People with dark skin from African, African-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds may also not get enough vitamin D from sunlight so again you may want to take supplements of Vitamin D.
NHS choices have produced a useful summary. https://www.nhs.uk/news/2011/05May/Documents/BtH_supplements.pdf and of course if you have any concerns that you are getting it right about supplements do make an appointment to see your GP.
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