In principle, a child’s needs are covered by a healthy and varied diet, regular physical exercise, and sufficient sleep.
However, the use of food supplements for children is not uncommon:
as part of a supplement prescribed by a doctor;
via food supplements specially designed for children available over the counter in pharmacies.
Caution: ask the advice of a doctor or a pharmacist before giving food supplements to a child.
Which food supplements for your child?
If you give a food supplement to your child without a doctor’s prescription, choose a product whose label clearly states that this supplement is intended for this type of public.
The most common nutrients used in children’s supplements on the market are zinc, vitamin D, B vitamins, and vitamin A.
Zinc for children
Zinc is one of the most concentrated trace elements in the brain and plays an essential role in many biological processes. It is involved in the production of certain neurotransmitters.
Thus, zinc supplementation can be decided to:
promote concentration and memory;
promote the growth of the child if it is slowed down;
fight against infections, especially digestive and respiratory ones.
In children, significant zinc deficiencies are rare. Moderate deficits are common, especially in children who eat little meat or food rich in phytates (which inhibit zinc absorption).
Good to know: the daily doses of zinc recommended by the WHO are set at 2 mg per day for children under 1-year-old and up to 7 mg between 1 and 3 years old.
Caution: an overdose of zinc can cause specific side effects.
Vitamin D for children
Vitamin D is essential for bone growth during childhood. It plays a significant role in the absorption of calcium, which gives bones and teeth their strength. Vitamin D is also involved in the immune system.
Under the effect of ultraviolet rays captured by the skin, the body manufactures vitamin D. Thus, a vitamin D supplementation may be necessary for children who are not sufficiently exposed to the sun, which is frequent in winter.
The daily vitamin D requirement is estimated to be 10 µg (micrograms) for children under 12 months of age and 15 µg (30 µg for adults) for children over 12 months.
Good to know: vitamin D supplementation should be done by taking medication (on medical prescription) rather than a food supplement because of the risks of overdosing in infants (taking vitamin D-enriched food supplements intended for adults).
B vitamins for children
All vitamins are essential for a child to be in good shape… and in particular, B vitamins. Generally speaking, they play a major role in combating stress, fatigue, and lack of motivation (even in children!). Some, like vitamin B12, also play an essential role in the growth and proper development of the nervous system.
The recommended doses of B vitamins vary, depending on the type of vitamin and the individual. In the case of moderate supplementation over short periods, there is little risk of overdosing. On the whole, excess B vitamins are naturally excreted in the urine.
Good to know: a varied diet is sufficient to provide the recommended doses of B vitamins. Thus, a deficiency in B vitamins is often due to poor assimilation or poor synthesis due to a dysfunction of the body (digestive diseases, obesity …).
Vitamin A for children
Vitamin A is known for its action on the good functioning of the sight. However, it is less known that it is involved in the growth of the fetus and the child. In addition, vitamin A plays a central protective role against infections by strengthening the immune system.
A deficiency in vitamin A leads to visual problems, numerous infections, and, in children, a delay in growth.
Good to know: Vitamin A supplementation is rarely necessary for children born at full term and adequately nourished. Ask a doctor for advice.
Doctor-prescribed dietary supplements for children
It is relatively frequent that the doctor deems it necessary to supplement children with vitamin D, vitamin K, calcium, iron, or fluoride. This is either to make up for a deficiency or to act as a preventive measure. If these deficiencies can be due to an unbalanced diet, they can also result from an illness or an infection.
Apart from medical prescriptions, children rarely need supplements. It can lead to adverse reactions, overdose, or intoxication.
Only a health professional can determine whether or not a child needs a supplement.
Good to know: a blood test can determine if a child needs a food supplement.
Dietary supplements for children: from what age?
Some supplements are mainly prescribed at critical ages of the child.
For a child up to the age of 3:
Fluoride supplementation may be medically prescribed if the child is at risk of deficiency. It is essential to avoid overdosing as it can lead to fluoride poisoning, called fluorosis.
Calcium supplementation may be prescribed if the daily milk intake is less than 500 ml.
Vitamin A supplementation may be necessary in cases of stunted growth or to combat an infectious disease.
Vitamin K, essential for blood clotting, is routinely given to infants from birth. Later, breastfed children only receive a preventive supplementation of vitamin K, strictly decided by a health professional.
Caution: Fluoride supplements are not indicated for babies under 6 months of age.
In children 3 years and older:
The doctor may decide on Vitamin D supplementation, especially for children living in areas with little sunshine.
It is important to know that vitamin D plays a major role in the absorption of calcium by the body. And the body manufactures this vitamin D in the skin under the effect of ultraviolet rays.
In adolescents, the most frequent supplementation is iron.
Finally, regardless of age, probiotics may be necessary for children. Their purpose is to strengthen the intestinal flora. But here again, only the doctor should make this decision for the good of the young patient.