February 29, 2024

Science – Supplements for Children: Helpful or Useless? – knowledge

Berlin/Düsseldorf/Munich (dpa) – Many manufacturers have long recognized that younger children are a target group for vitamins, minerals and plant extracts. “About 14 to 19 percent of children and adolescents aged 12 to 17 years take food supplements regularly,” says nutritionist Anke Weissenborn from the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). “That’s a big percentage.” For younger children up to the age of six, the percentage is still less than ten percent.

“Food supplements for children are widely advertised on social media and by influencers, often with impermissible statements,” says Angela Claussen of the North Rhine-Westphalia Consumer Center. “Advertising often suggests that children definitely need extra vitamins when they face new challenges, for example when they start school,” says the expert.

Are vitamin supplements beneficial for children?

High-income parents in particular rely on these often expensive products, in keeping with the slogan: “You can do it all better.” For example, the Bears with Benefits children’s vitamin costs €166 per kilo. Founders Marlena Henn and Laurence Saunier explain this, among other things, by saying that instead of “cheap and dangerous” nanoparticles and fillers, they use natural food colorings from sweet potatoes, carrots or blueberries and avoid release agents, fillers and allergens.

But how beneficial are vitamin supplements for children? The Federal Institute for Risk Evaluation is critical of the funds: “We did not find any additional benefit in either children or adults,” says Weissenborn, a research associate at the Department of Food Risks, Allergies and Novel Foods at the Federal Institute for Risk Evaluation. “If we are provided with adequate food, there is no benefit in taking additional vitamins and minerals,” says the expert.

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Healthy eating in daily life

Children in Germany are generally provided with adequate nutrients through their natural diet. Only for a few, such as vitamin D and iodine, the reference value recommended by the German Nutrition Society is not reached by everyone. “But that doesn’t mean these kids automatically need help,” Weissenborn said. Doctors recommend vitamin D for infants anyway.

Berthold Koletzko, a pediatrician and metabolism and nutrition expert at Dr. From the Hannerschen Children’s Hospital at the University of Munich. There are also certain stages of growth where there can be gaps in nutrient supplies, for example in omega-3 fatty acids and iron. Ideally, these elements can be balanced with a fresh, balanced diet.

Warning: Overdose

“But the reality of life for many families is not always reflected in this,” Koletzko says. “A hectic pace often defines daily life, and a healthy diet is not always guaranteed,” says the pediatrician. However, he advises against simply buying vitamin supplements. “You should always seek advice from your pediatricians first,” Koletzko says.

Anke Weißenborn also recommends consulting a doctor to make a diagnosis and find out if it is really advisable to take additional amounts of vitamins and minerals. She warns that vitamin supplements can also cause long-term health damage. “Anything that exceeds normal physiological needs can be stressful on the body.”

Vitamin D is a prominent example of this. “We have been told for years over and over again that we are not receiving adequate supplies and that we should take them extra to strengthen our immune systems.” Cases are now known in which parents gave their children doses much higher than recommended. “This sometimes led to severe disruption of kidney function,” says Weissenborn.

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Overdoses can also occur quickly with other preparations, especially if they resemble sweets. The expert says: “They are not colorful pills and harmless gummy candies, but they contain substances that can cause health damage.”

Influences and interactions cannot be controlled

Another problem from their point of view: “Manufacturers are increasingly enriching their preparations with plant extracts, fatty acids or other substances that have a physiological effect. Hardly anyone can understand the effects and interactions that these substances may have in the body.”

Angela Clausen says it’s almost impossible for parents to estimate the right dose. “The percentages on the packaging, for example, only apply to adults,” says the expert. A study of 33 children’s products this year showed that in 13 cases the maximum recommended dose for adults was reached or exceeded.

There are no maximum levels across Europe for adding micronutrients or other substances to dietary supplements. “This is a big problem,” Clausen said. In theory, every manufacturer can put as much or as little into their products as they want – provided the product is safe.

The BfR has set out suggestions for maximum use of these micronutrients in food supplements, but only for people aged 15 years and over. “We did not come up with any proposals on the maximum quantity for children, among other things, because this would have encouraged the creation of an additional category of products,” explains Anke Weissenborn. However, this has still proven itself. The BfR has compiled information about micronutrients on the website “microco-wissen.de”. According to Weißenborn, the platform will be expanded to include information that particularly affects children.

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“It is always possible and more logical to absorb nutrients through common foods rather than in isolated form via pills,” she says. Regular foods also contain other important substances such as fibre. “No vitamin pill can replace an apple or a balanced diet.”

“Children who eat a healthy, balanced diet do not need any nutritional supplements – and we completely agree with that,” say Marlena Henn and Laurence Sonnier. But: “As mothers of four children, we know that this does not always correspond to reality and that many children tend to follow a very one-sided diet.”

In Angela Clausen’s view, the preparations give the wrong impression: “If I have problems at school, for example, I just have to take a vitamin pill or take a vitamin gummy and then everything will be fine again,” says the consumer advocate. . . “What is really good for children is a varied diet, outdoor exercise, adequate sleep and time with their parents.”

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