Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Love your kids: Give them a supplement

Giving your children (or yourself for that matter) a supplement is not an indication that you are a poor parent or that you have somehow failed to provide them with a healthy diet. Firstly the food you have purchase may not have enough nutrients in it.

Secondly our lifestyle does not lend itself to healthy eating. Take today, as soon as the kids where home, it was grab a sandwich and off to dancing. Now the sandwich was made from Vogels (or equivalent). But the spreads of peanut margarine (peanut butter for those who don't know that peanut butter is actually peanut margarine) or jam were hardly nutritious. Come home at dinner time, everyone hungry, wife is working late so she hasn't prepared anything. So it was instant noodles for dinner. However tonight I got clever and made a salad from red cabbage, lettuce/salad greens from a packet, tomatoes, canned beetroot. They did have to eat it before the noodles. But the point is our lifestyle doesn't lead itself to carefully prepared meals that use home grown or locally sourced food.

So don't see the fact that you feed your kids a supplement that somehow you have failed. Look at it as an insurance policy. Insurance that if their diet is lacking then you are just making sure that they don't miss out on the nutrients.

What sparked this post. A review has come out that looked at kids intelligence and supplementation. The reviewers looked at the literature from 1970-2008 extracting all the controlled studies that randomly allocated test subjects to either a placebo or a supplement that had great or equal to 3 different nutrients. Now I would point out that having 3 different micronutrients in a supplement is going to massively reduce any positive effects of supplementation. Let us say hypothetically that a child is low in zinc, thus they have problems generating new brain cells. This impedes intelligence. If they get a supplement that has iron, vitamin C and vitamin B12 there is going to be no improvement in the childs body chemistry, thus no improvement in cognitive function.

Personally I would have only included supplements that provided all the vitamins and a cross section of minerals all in a bioavailable form. Thus you would give the childrens biochemistry all it needs to perform at the maximum capability.

Anyway back to the review. They conclude:
Multiple micronutrient supplementation may be associated with a marginal increase in fluid intelligence and academic performance in healthy schoolchildren but not with crystallized intelligence.
 In plain English, fluid intelligence is the:
ability to find meaning in confusion and solve new problems. It is the ability to draw inferences and understand the relationships of various concepts, independent of acquired knowledge
And crystallized intelligence is
the ability to use skills, knowledge, and experience. It should not be equated with memory or knowledge, but it does rely on accessing information from long-term memory.
So supplementing your kids (1) gives them better ability to understand new information, (2) improves their academic/school performance. However it does not give them increased ability to use the information they have already.

What really upsets me that the study ends with "More research is required, however, before public health recommendations can be given". How many kids will be performing sub optimally while scientists dilly dally around figuring out exactly what level of each nutrient needs to be taken. A poor supplement or poor choice of nutrients is still going to be better than nothing at all. 

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