Fall is here and school is in full swing, but so is cold and flu season. Many parents are exploring options like probiotics and vitamins to boost their children’s immunity and ward off illness. Carla Sguigna, MD, FAAP, pediatrician, answers some frequently asked questions from parents.
Do children need to take multivitamins every day? Do vitamins really boost immunity and health?
For healthy children with a balanced diet, there’s no clear evidence that extra vitamin supplements can prevent colds and flus.
Are there certain vitamins some children should be taking at certain times? For example, vitamin D during the winter or vitamin C and zinc when they’re feeling sick.
While most kids don’t need vitamins, there can be some exceptions depending on diet and lifestyle. If your child doesn’t eat much fresh fruit or vegetables, they may not be getting enough vitamin C. In that case, adding orange juice, lemon or lime squeezed on to foods, or a daily vitamin C supplement is probably a good idea. When taking supplements, it is advised to use caution — too much vitamin C can cause gastrointestinal upset and even kidney stones if taken over a long period of time, so just stick with the recommended daily allowance.
Is there any time you should be worried that your child isn’t getting enough vitamins?
Kids who don’t drink vitamin D fortified milk on a daily basis are at risk for vitamin D deficiency, especially in the winter when they don’t get much sun. We’re learning more every day how important vitamin D is for good health, not just for bones but also for the immune system. If your child doesn’t drink 12-16 oz of milk per day, consider a vitamin D supplement, but again, just the recommended daily allowance. Additionally, kids who are raised on a vegan diet may need supplementation with vitamin B12, iron and vitamin D. It’s a good idea to speak with your pediatrician about supplementation in that situation to find out what is the best option for your child.
Do probiotics really help keep kids healthy? Should they be taking them every day?
Probiotics can help restore gut balance after illness or antibiotics, but they don’t significantly boost immunity in healthy children.
If children take supplements, are there certain times of day that they should be taking them?
Most vitamins are flexible regarding timing, but some may absorb better with food. For instance, B vitamins provide energy and are best taken in the morning with a hearty breakfast rather than right before bed. Consult your child’s doctor for personalized recommendations.
Overall, the best way to stay healthy during cold and flu season is to eat a balanced diet including fresh fruits and vegetables, get plenty of sleep and practice good handwashing. You should also consider wearing a mask in large groups or crowded settings when COVID levels in the community are high.
If you do decide to give your child supplements, make your dentist happy by avoiding the gummy ones.