Millions of adults take vitamins and nutritional supplements in the hope of achieving better health, fewer diseases and to defy the ageing process. In 2009, £674.6 million worth of nutritional supplements were sold in the UK. But are they really worth it and should we be giving our children nutritional supplements too?
A new report by Behind the Headlines, an NHS service that investigates health claims, tells us that despite the wide availability of vitamins, minerals and dietary supplements such as fish oils, we should buy and take them with caution; and particular caution is needed when giving them to children.
Research by the Food Standards Agency says that over half of all UK households give their children a vitamin or mineral supplement, and 20% of these households give their child an adult version.
Should we give children multivitamin supplements?
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) says that healthy children should be able to get enough nutrients from eating a balanced diet and that multivitamins should not be used as a substitute for a balanced diet.
The only exception to this guidance is for vitamin drops for under 5’s that are an important source of vitamin D, and are specifically formulated for this age group.
But, clearly many of us feel that if our children are not always eating a balanced diet, a multivitamin provides a reassuring back-up. So, can multivitamins do any harm?
Taking single vitamins or minerals, or an unbalanced multivitamin can easily lead to imbalances and deficiencies. For example, iron, zinc and calcium share the same absorption and transport system, so taking large doses can reduce the uptake of zinc and calcium. Fat soluble vitamins taken in excess can lead to accumulation in the liver and fat tissues, resulting in vitamin poisoning (hypervitaminosis).
I recommend always trying to achieve health and wellbeing from eating a balanced diet, rather than vitamin or mineral supplements. Ok, kids are often a little more difficult to convince that food is always best…but it is worth being patient and positive about nutritious food. Look out for my tips on fussy eating in other sections, and in the meantime avoid giving your child a multivitamin unless of course advised by a dietitian or health professional.