By: Dr. Casey Carr, Naturopathic Medical Doctor
Hi Dr. Casey,
I have a healthy 5 year old son and I do not currently have him on any supplements. Is there a supplement I should be giving him for optimal health and disease prevention? – Nicole J
This is a great question to be thinking about for your little one! I love working with kids as they are amazingly resilient. Just like all of our human bodies, a child is wired towards being healthy and well. Kids just have the advantage of being a little closer to the state most of the time without the effects of life compounding on their health.
If you have read any of my previous material Nicole, you probably know what I am going to start with first: are all or most of your child’s determinants of health being met (as best as you can)? This means restful sleep, time in nature, adequate quality water intake, connection with others, moving his body in new ways daily, and of course, nutrition. It is expensive and ineffective to use supplements to make up for a standard American diet. I try to not be too much of a diet tyrant on what type of eating pattern, but whole, unprocessed foods replete in a variety of colors (aka, fruits and veggies) make up the base. As I tell my patients, food is the medicine (and supplementation) you take three times a day, whether you think of it this way or not. If the basic above needs are not being met, then I will work on this foundation first with the in-addition-to supports needed to help get that base established.
As a naturopath, I love that I get to ask the question why. So if you have a healthy five-year old, what would be my why of adding a supplement to an already well-functioning body? There are a few in-addition-to supplements I think of for children to be taking, and below is my brief explanation of the reason behind it.
Fish oil is one supplement I like most of my patients to be on, including children. Full of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, it is all too easy to miss this fat in our diet with the current state of our food system. Omega-3 fatty acids help growing brains get the nutrients needed for optimal development (specifically the DHA form of omega-3), and can reduce the incidence of allergies, asthma and mood and attention related disorders. Fish oil is one supplement I am extra cognizant of quality, because it is easy to buy the cheapest one and think you are getting all of the above benefits. As someone who has tasted many-a -capsule of fish oil (yes, yuck!), I can tell you that many are rancid and may actually be adding a proinflammatory response and opposite outcome on health than desired. Quality does often reflect the price for fish oil, and there are only certain brands I recommend to my patients to make sure it is high caliber. There are flavored liquid versions of fish oil that kids do really well with with minimal additives that I will put my pediatric patients on for their daily dose of omega-3s.
Vitamin D has been well established as a necessary fat-soluble vitamin for a variety of reasons, with immune regulation and mood being only a part of that picture. Especially in growing bones, vitamin D is necessary for their healthy development and prevention of rickets. Living in a Northern climate as we do, vitamin D is a necessary in-addition-to for children to get, especially in winter time. For children over one year old, getting 600 – 1000 IU of vitamin D per day is needed. I especially like to pair vitamin D with K2 for its synergistic use in bone and teeth development as well as support in cardiovascular system maturation and disease prevention. The importance of vitamin K2 is being increasingly recognized and researched as a necessary addition to vitamin D supplementation, so it is much easier to find combination products for both adults and kids.
I often get asked about probiotics, which I tend to go back and forth depending on who is sitting in front of me. If the child was not breastfed, probiotic supplementation becomes more important. But as a physician who does love to practice food as medicine, eating fermented foods daily can be adequate enough for a healthy child. Kiefer, high quality yogurt, sauerkraut, adding a little bit of brine water to smoothies are all good sources to include daily nutrition habits. Certain juice companies have come about in recent years with a foundational strain of probiotic that has been shown to help support immune response (lactobacillus plantarum 299v) that you can find in sugar-free versions that can be an easy go-to for busy families.
A basic multivitamin is also something that I consider based on the determinants of health of the child. If “picky eating” is a part of the picture, I will likely encourage use of a basic chewable multivitamin that is not also laced with additive sugars and dyes to ensure adequate B-vitamins, calcium and magnesium. The harsh reality of our nutrient-depleted soils is real, too, so a basic multivitamin supplement is usually something I encourage for most people.
In short, fish oil and vitamin D are my necessary add-ons for every pediatric patient, with probiotics and a multivitamin also serving as very useful. If there are additional symptoms of recurrent ear infections, eczema, nervous system dysregulation, etc., I work with families to take a more individualized approach based on the child’s needs that may likely require some additional supplemental support.
You can check out more of Dr. Casey’s writings through the local Natural Wellness magazine publication and sign up for newsletters at her website, https://www.drcaseycarr.com/