Parents, be informed before giving your kids dietary supplements and vitamins

Nutritional supplements, the most popular of which include multivitamins, probiotics, fish oil, and melatoninare given to one-third of American children and this is concerning healthcare experts who say there’s not much evidence to the benefits of nutritional supplementation. 

Experts’ concerns are for the possible risks of damage to the liver and the heart when parents start giving supplements to their kids instead of them getting what they need from real food.

Dr. David Agus, CBS News medical contributor, says people have all kinds of reasons to give supplements to their kids because they think they need them to build their muscles, or for brain and cognitive development, or they think they are simply nutritionally deficient or because they aren’t eating well, so just to be safe parents will give them a supplement. But Agus says there has yet to be a study showing that for normal kids there is a benefit to taking multivitamins or supplements. In fact, he says that in large quantities they could actually be harmful.

Agus states that some harmful consequences could result to the heart and liver for instance and probiotics could harm a child’s normal gut bacteria as well as the possibility that muscle stimulants could lead to heartbeat irregularities.

Agus says that doctors and parents need to take a stand – that it’s eating real food, exercise and studying that will help their kids do better on tests and in physical activities.

Especially for kids who are anxious about doing well for sports tryouts with the beginning of a new school year, Agus says that supplements won’t work for muscle building, energy or weight gain. It just isn’t going to work.

The solution, he says, is for kids to have a schedule of consistent sleep. Improving mental and athletic performance is bolstered by going to bed at the same time everyday and getting up at the same time of day and getting the same amount of sleep everyday and eating healthy real food.

And melatonin should be avoided to help kids sleep. Instead exercise and reducing time on computers before bedtime will help sleep. There are no studies at the present time that have been done on children for the benefits of melatonin supplementation.  The concern is that melatonin does affect the endurance system, the immune system and their muscles. Agus strongly warns that melatonin supplementation needs to stop.

Agus and the Council for Responsible Nutrition, which represents the supplement industry, both recommend that parents visit with their healthcare providers about their children’s diets, and discuss whether multivitamins or supplements should be used. In most cases, Agus says the answer will be ‘No.’