My naturopath suggested I get my kids on a vitamin supplement…what do you use for your kids, or do you have a recommendation? Thanks!
Thanks for the question, Kirsten! Believe it or not, I actually don’t give my kids vitamins. Seems contrary to the “organic mama way,” doesn’t it? But actually, it isn’t! Here’s why:
Reason #1: Multi-Vitamins Are Not The Insurance Policy We Think They Are
Do you pick up your child’s dinner plate – sigh over the untouched veggies – and then think “oh well, at least he/she takes vitamins!”? Well then, I have good news and bad news. First – and you are going to LOVE me for this – it’s okay if your child doesn’t eat tons of veggies.
Because children have a relative paucity [small amount] of the enzyme that converts B-carotene into vitamin A, children younger than five years generally do not do well with vegetables. I tell all my parents not to worry about their children not liking vegetables, as this is normal in this stage of life. In fact, because they are slow in this enzymatic conversion, perhaps it is best left to the cow to do this conversion and for the child to eat butter and cream [which is full of vitamins and minerals]. This is actually probably more as nature intended it anyway.
Dr. Thomas Cowan, Feeding Our Children
In other words, we should be focused on getting our kids to eat BUTTER with a side of broccoli instead of the other way around!* Not only will this increase vitamin/mineral absorption from the veggies they actually do eat, it will provide the kind of fat soluble vitamins that help develop beautiful straight teeth, strong bodies and good dispositions.
The bad news is those vitamins may give your kids nothing more than very expensive pee. According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, “many supplements on the market have a very low absorption rate, some only 9%, so the [child’s] body would actually get way below what it says on the bottle.” (Gut & Psychology Syndrome p. 295)
An absorption rate of only 9%? How is that possible? It’s easy, actually. Just take whatever amazing rainforest-extracted antioxidant miracle you want, coat each particle in a gummy hydrogenated oil and then . . . eat it. Yep, for the convenience of their operations that is essentially what vitamin makers are asking us to do.
Stearates found in supplements are hydrogenated fats such as magnesium stearate, stearic acid and calcium stearate. They are made by hydrogenating cottonseed or palm oil and are used throughout the supplements industry as lubricants; they are added to the raw materials so that machinery will run at maximum speeds.
Stearates coat every particle of the nutrients, so the particles will flow rapidly. This ensures that production schedules will meet profit targets. These substances decrease the absorption of nutrients; in a published study, the percent dissolution for capsules after 20 minutes in solution went from 90% without stearates to 25% with stearates. Individuals with impaired digestion [or children with immature digestive capacity!] may have particular difficulty absorbing nutrients coated with stearates.
According to Udo Erasmus, in his book Fats and Oils, cottonseed oil has the highest content of pesticide residues of all commercial oils. In the hydrogenation process, the oil is subjected to high heat and pressure in the presence of a metal catalyst for several hours. According to Erasmus the resultant stearates contain altered molecules derived from fatty acids. The metal catalyst may also contaminate the stearates produced.
Hydrogenated oils and potential metal contamination? Blech!
Reason #2: Our Bodies Don’t Know What To Do With Them
About 98% of vitamins sold in the United States are made with synthetic materials, which are basically useless.¹
“But wait!” you say. “I’m not buying my vitamins at the local drug store. No way, missy! I buy mine from the health food store and it says ‘natural’ right on the label. They’re legit.”
Maybe. I hope so. But the odds are not in your favor. Here’s why:
Most fruit and vegetable concentrates used in dietary supplements are dried with very high heat, destroying various nutrients. They don’t supply much nutrient [value] but are used in the supplement to make it appear natural, while all the nutrients listed on the label come from synthetic or other unnatural additions. These so-called “whole food” supplements containing fruit or vegetable concentrates have to be “spiked” with synthetic vitamins and other unnatural nutrients in order to list any appreciable amounts of nutrients.
So, ummm, how are companies getting away with this? Turns out it’s all just clever wording.
Almost all of the vitamin C in supplements is made in a laboratory, despite labeling that implies otherwise. For example, the label might say, “ascorbic acid from sago palm.” Dextrose, a form of sugar that contains no vitamin C at all, is extracted from sago palm and used as the base molecular material for a complex laboratory process that synthesizes vitamin C. Or the label might say “vitamin C derived from the finest natural sources.” True, but the vitamin C was synthesized. It might also say “with rose hips and acerola,” which are then used as the base material for the tablet or capsule. But a tablet of rose hips or acerola can contain only about forty milligrams of truly natural vitamin C; the rest is synthesized.
Labels often proclaim “natural” B vitamins, derived from yeast. But companies manufacturing yeast add laboratory-synthesized B vitamins to the food fed to the yeast during its growth, and then fortify the yeast further with additional B vitamins once it has grown. This allows the production of yeast of any B-vitamin potency desired, which is then used to formulate vitamin pills labeled “B vitamins derived from yeast.” I generally recommend taking B vitamins as part of the multi vitamin-mineral-antioxidant that I use. For therapeutic doses of specific B vitamins, I recommend Thorne Research products.
For tips on how to spot real B vitamins in supplements, check out this article from Dr. Philip Maffetone (Quick tip: If it says folic acid it’s most likely not true b9!).
So hardworking families are being duped into buying knockoffs. That’s selfish and wrong but not actually harmful, right?
Wrong. According to Dr. Campbell McBride, the body “has been designed to use natural forms of these nutrients and often does not recognize the synthetic forms and does not know what to do with them. There is a growing suspicion that a lot of cases of kidney stones, for example, are caused by supplementing synthetic forms of vitamin C, which would represent most vitamin C supplements available in the shops.” (Gut & Psychology Syndrome p. 296).
Dr. Maffetone agrees, saying that “A new study on vitamin C (Am J Clin Nutr; Jan 2008) showed adults taking the synthetic version had serious side effects. Doses of 1,000 mg of vitamin C a day impaired their energy systems (significantly hampering their endurance capacity), specifically by weakening the mitochondria of the cell (which burns fat and sugar). It also had significant adverse effects on the antioxidant system (a key immune regulator). Those who take vitamin C often take this amount or more, and it’s almost always synthetic. Children may be even more vulnerable.”
Reason #3: Too Much Can Actually Cause Deficiencies!!!
Ironic, but true. Say you’ve got a multi made with whole foods instead of the synthetic junk and it has a decent absorption rate. Problem solved, right? Not exactly.
Unless your child has been tested extensively for nutritional deficiencies (one or two broad tests do not represent a true picture), you’re effectively supplementing in the dark. Throwing random doses of things into the mix is not a good idea, because if you give your child too much of something they don’t need their body will use precious stores of other vitamins/minerals to metabolise and get rid of it.
“To complicate the whole matter even further,” says Dr. Campbell-McBride, “many nutrients compete for absorption sites in the gut. So, if we supplement too much calcium, for example, it may impair absorption of other nutrients: magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, some amino acids and others, creating deficiencies in those nutrients.” (p. 296)
Our foods contain a natural wisdom – they are complete packages with everything we need to “unpack” their nutrients – we should use them whenever possible. But what about soil degradation and industrial farming practices? Don’t we NEED to supplement?
In most cases, yes. That’s why I specifically target my children’s nutritional needs with REAL, whole food-based supplements.
What are these supplements I speak of? Eek! I am totally out of time. Seriously, I didn’t plan to make this a two-parter! But oh, in the next couple days you will get the goods, pinky swear and everything! (Updated: You can read part 2 here and part 3 here)
Are “natural” supplements everything you thought they were? Are you going to change anything after reading this post? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!
Next in this series: Essential Supplements For Children (And Their Parents)
*Note: If your child reacts to milk, try ghee! It’s butter with the milk solids removed and it’s super easy to make at home 🙂 And avoid conventional dairy when possible because it contains very little of the fat-soluble vitamins I mentioned. Grassfed is best, even if it is pasteurized.
Questions about baby nutrition? Check out my new e-book, Nourished Baby!
Photo credit: The first photo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License