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5 Things to Know About Dietary Supplements for Children

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Updated July 01, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

toddler child eating vegetables

Kids who eat balanced diets probably don't need dietary supplements.

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Kids who eat balanced diets usually don't need to take dietary supplements, but children who are extremely picky eaters, have certain health conditions, or have to follow restricted diets might be at risk for some deficiencies. In these cases, dietary supplements can be beneficial.

But regular dietary supplements designed for adults aren't always the best fit for kids. They may have dosages that are too high or have extra ingredients that aren't all that helpful. And some may be too difficult for a kid to take. So here's what you need to know about dietary supplements and children:

1. A typical child's multivitamin contains all the nutrients needed to ensure intake of essential vitamins and minerals -- there's no need to take more than what the label directions indicate, unless your health care provider has given you different instructions.

2. It can be difficult for younger children to swallow pills, so many kids' vitamins are sold as chewable tablets or gummies. They're usually flavored and contain some type of sweetener. The flavors and colors may be natural or artificial -- read the ingredients list to know for sure what you're putting into your kid. 

3. Although dietary supplements are generally safe for kids, don't give them adult supplements, especially if they contain large amounts of any single nutrient. And keep all adult vitamins out of the reach of toddlers and young children. If a young child gets into a bottle of vitamins, grab the bottle and call your local poison control center or call 1-800-222-1222.

4. Some supplements such as probiotics, melatonin or omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in certain situations, but don't try to treat your children's health conditions with dietary supplements -- always speak to your health care providers first. Also, don't fall for claims that supplements can treat conditions such as ADHD or autism. And don't give your children weight loss supplements.

5. Supplements will help ensure your kid gets enough nutrients, but don't give up on him or her eating a healthy diet. Continue to offer healthy choices at every meal. Be patient, a child may need to be exposed to a new food ten or more times before accepting it.

Your child might also be getting extra nutrients from fortified and enriched foods such as bread, breakfast cereal, vitamin-enriched beverages and even energy drinks. Be careful with energy drinks in kids -- they're regulated as dietary supplements so they can pump up the volume on the caffeine. The problem is, we're not sure yet how much caffeine is too much for kids and teens.

Dietary supplements can be good for some kids under some circumstances, but it's always best to speak to your pediatrician before starting your kid on any new dietary supplements.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. Where We Stand: Vitamins. Accessed June 10, 2010. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/pages/Where-We-Stand-Vitamins.aspx.

American Academy of Pediatrics: HealthyChildren.org. "Vitamin Supplements and Children." Accessed May 14, 2014. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/nutrition/Pages/Vitamin-Supplements-and-Children.aspx.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "5 Things To Know About Safety of Dietary Supplements for Children and Teens." Accessed May 14, 2014. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/tips/childsupplements.

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplements: Background Information. Accessed June 10, 2010. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/dietarysupplements/.

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