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Is your child overdosing on vitamins?

Lack of vitamins can be detrimental to one’s health; however, excess amounts can also be harmful
Lack of vitamins can be detrimental to one’s health; however, excess amounts can also be harmful
Robin Wulffson, M.D.

According to a new study, vitamin supplements marketed for infants and children often contain more than the recommended amount of individual vitamins, according to a new study. Lack of vitamins can be detrimental to one’s health; however, excess amounts can also be harmful. The study was published online on January 27 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics by researchers at LECOM School of Pharmacy (Erie, Pennsylvania) and Provider Resources Inc. (Erie, Pennsylvania).

For the study, the researchers accessed data from the Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD), which was created in July 2013 by the Office of Dietary Supplements in collaboration with the National Library of Medicine. The DSLD was recently created to facilitate the scientific study of dietary supplement labels; it allows researchers to evaluate dietary supplement labels for research purposes. The amount of vitamins an individual requires on a daily basis is known as the recommended daily allowance (RDA). The RDA is determined by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which provides independent advice to US policymakers.

The investigators reviewed the labels of 21 supplements marketed for use among infants younger than 12 months of age; they also reviewed labels of 172 supplements marketed for use among children between the ages of 12 months and four years. They evaluated nine individual vitamins in supplements marketed for infants and 14 vitamins in supplements marketed for older children. The investigators found that only Vitamin D fell within the recommended RDA for vitamins in both groups. All the other vitamin’s exceeded the RDA. The average amount of Vitamin C contained in the supplements intended for children younger than 12 months met the RDA requirements; however, in supplements intended for older children, the Vitamin C levels were approximately five times the recommended amount. Vitamin C is necessary for normal growth and development. It has the following functions: it forms an important protein used to make skin, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels; it aids wound healing and scar formation; and maintains healthy cartilage, bones, and teeth. Excess Vitamin C can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. Although Vitamin C prevents scurvy, excess vitamin C can also cause scurvy. Scurvy is characterized by fatigue, widespread connective tissue weakness, and capillary (small blood vessel) fragility.

Biotin is a vitamin that helps convert food into energy. It supports the health of the skin, nerves, digestive tract, metabolism, and cells. The investigators found that the average amount of biotin in children's supplements was between five and nine times the RDA. Even at high levels, biotin appears to be fairly safe. It is currently unclear what dosage of biotin might start to pose a health risk.

They study authors caution that the vitamin levels in supplements should not exceed the IOM’s RDA recommendations. The IOM notes that data is inadequate regarding about potential side effects from excessive vitamin levels among children in those age groups evaluated in the study and it is preferable for children to obtain their vitamins from food.

Take home message:
For children, dosage of medication, including vitamins, is determined by the child’s weight. If you give your child vitamin supplements, check with your pediatrician or family physician regarding the correct dosage. If your child has a healthy diet, consisting of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, vitamin supplements may not be necessary.

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