Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Should Kids Take Vitamins? A Response.

Came across a simply awful article in the July issue of Queens Family Magazine by Laura J. Varoscak entitled “Healthy Kids Take Vitamins – but should they?” Just from the title of the article, you know where this one is heading.

Let me highlight some of my favorite points made by the author:

-- Children whose diet consists of “fistfuls of Cheerios or Mac-n-Cheese” apparently are adequately nourished.

-- The “vitamin industry” (i) disseminates false information regarding nutrition; (ii) plays upon parents’ fears by “target[ing] worried parents looking for a magic pill;” and (iii) “succeed[s] in luring innocent parents to buy their fraudulent cure-alls by bombarding them with medical terms that cannot be supported by scientific evidence or undocumented ‘success stories.’”

-- Parents with concerns about “deficiencies” should “always consult” a pediatrician who can “screen individual children and determine whether . . . supplements are needed and in what dosage.”

-- Vitamins can be harmful, and should a pediatrician recommend a vitamin, parents must be careful because “[u]nlike medications, dietary supplements are not held to any set of federal standards.”

-- “Replacing a proven effective drug like Ritalin with a ‘natural’ dietary supplement may cause more damage than good.”

-- The best source of nutrition for “healthy” children is the Food Guide Pyramid.

-- “No research exists which proves supplements can lead to improved health.”

-- “Dr. William Sears, a pediatric practitioner for over 30 years, recommends a multivitamin containing the following ingredients: omega-3 fats, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins C and E.” Emphasis added.

-- “While it is true that vitamins and minerals are essential . . . a diet consisting of a variety of wholesome foods, not pills, is the safest and most effective way to maintain good health.”

Let’s just start with the most obvious two problems of this article:

First, what do you mean by “healthy”? If healthy is defined as “not nutritionally deficient in any way,” then, duh, of course you don’t need any vitamins. You don’t give cough syrup to a kid who doesn’t have a cough (oh, wait a minute, you don’t give cough syrup to kids anymore . . . but, more on this later).

More importantly, how many kids really are “nutritionally” sound? Certainly not one whose diet consists of “fistfuls of Cheerios or Mac-n-Cheese.”

Second, how can we be told that kids don’t need vitamins and that vitamins may be harmful, and then be told, in almost the same breath, that the experienced and oft-quoted pediatrician Dr. William Sears recommends a vitamin?

But, there are more problems with this article, and I must guess that they stem from a prejudice in favor of the medical/pharmaceutical industries. Let’s go point by point.

It is not doubt true that certain producers/sellers of vitamins are less than truthful in their claims, and that some will try to sell their products by making concerned parents feel that their products are needed. But, is that any reason not to trust every single vitamin maker out there and disregard vitamins all together?

I mean, how is this any different from any other product being sold on the market today? EVEN FOOD itself!

Are not the people who make diet food playing upon the fears and insecurities of those who feel fat (whether these people are “fat” is also subject to question – who decides and how – the fashion industry? the athletic clubs? Weight Watchers?)

Do you need a cigarette to be cool?

Do Nike sneakers make you faster, jump higher or “just like Mike?”

Also, if you really want to get into this, is anyone worse at playing upon your fears, pushing “magic pills” and “bombarding [us] with medical terms” than the pharmaceutical industry??

Legs shake at night? You have Restless Leg Syndrome or “RLS” – talk to your doctor about this pill. High cholesterol? Talk to your doctor about this pill. Sexual Dysfunction? Depression? Allergies? Attention problems? Talk to your doctor about this pill, that pill and the other.

Funny, how except in the most fleeting, dismissive way possible (if at all), do the ads for these drugs suggest exercise, better diet, or lifestyle changes.

And, for every one vitamin ad, how many more pharmaceutical television commercials, radio commercials, full page magazine and newspaper ads, promotional mailings, press releases and DVD’s sent right to your door are we hit with? Who's bombarding whom here?

And who gets the government to mandate taking their products??

I’ll bet the “vitamin industry” only wishes it had the financial and political power wielded by the pharmaceutical giants.

Speaking of the pharmaceutical giants, exactly how safe are the products they sell – you, know, the ones that have gotten government approval?

While it is true that overdoses of certain vitamins can be harmful (another duh moment – by definition, isn’t that why it’s called an “overdose”?), the fact is that the same can be said of nearly every single prescription and over the counter drug out there. Hell, you can even overdose on food and drink!

Moreover, if the author was attempting to somehow equate the safety of vitamins and supplements with medications like Ritalin, you’ve just got to be kidding. Even taken properly, under a doctor’s supervision, these unbelievable powerful, psychotropic drugs are dangerous. And, they all have side-effects. See the previous posts about the dangers of these medications.

I gotta be honest with you. I’ve never heard of anyone suffering from taking a multivitamin. I can't say the same about Ritalin.

Government approval does not make a drug safe nor prove its efficacy. Let’s see. DES was approved for pregnant women, but it caused cervical cancer. There was a vaccine for Swine Flu back in the mid- 1970's, but that caused a nerve disorder and killed more people than the Swine Flu itself. Vioxx was approved, but it’s off the market now. Seems it killed some people. Adderall XR was pulled from the market in Canada for a while because of health concerns. You can’t give your kids cough medicine anymore because it’s too dangerous.

Do I really need to continue?

And speaking of Adderall and Ritalin, believe it or not, there are effective, alternative treatments for attention issues. Do they work with every child diagnosed with ADD? No, but then neither does Ritalin. So, exactly how can trying a “'natural’ dietary supplement … cause more damage than good” especially when studies have shown that supplements can improve your health?

A few examples:
Children who received fatty acid supplementation demonstrated “significant improvements . . . in reading, spelling, and behavior” (“The Oxford-Durham Study: A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Dietary Supplementation With Fatty Acids in Children With Developmental Coordination Disorder,” Pediatrics, Vol. 115, No. 5, May 2005);
Children diagnosed with ADHD show a “significant decrease of hyperactivity” when receiving magnesium supplementation (“The effects of magnesium physiological supplementation on hyperactivity in children with ADHD”);
Supplementation with probiotics is a “safe effective way to reduce fever, rhinorrhea, and cough incidence and duration and antibiotic prescription incidence as well as the number of missed school days attributable to illness for children 3 to 5 years of age (“Probiotic Effects on Cold and Influenza-Like Symptom Incidence and Duration in Children,” Pediatrics, Vol. 124, No. 2, August 2009).

Next, your child's pediatrician should know about any supplements you want to give your child. You don't want to run into any issues regarding allergies/adverse reactions, drug prescriptions and/or problems with any other medical actions the doctor might recommend. However, what makes doctors the “go-to-experts” with respect to nutrition and supplementation? I'll tell you right now, a nutritionist knows far more about diet and supplements than most doctors. While there are some exceptions, the fact is that doctors simply are not traditionally trained in this area.

Last but not least, the bit about healthy eating. Yes, I agree that in a perfect world, we all should get our vitamins and minerals from eating a variety of wholesome foods, not pills. However, eating most of the food now produced and sold in the market, and worse still, using the Food Guide Pyramid as your guide, is simply not going to supply your body with what it truly needs.

First, read “In Defense of Food,” by Michael Pollan. You'll discover that as a result of the way food is grown, processed, and shipped, the food we eat is severely deficient in the vitamins, minerals and essential fats that we need.

Moreover, take a glance at “Food Politics,” by Marian Nestle, and you'll learn what an absolute joke the Food Guide Pyramid is -- unless of course, you think lobbyists and politicians fearful of losing their office should be telling you what you should eat.