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Kids and Vitamins

This just in: vitamins aren’t good for you. In case you think I’m rehashing an old Woody Allen movie, read the New York Times – . In many of the studies they cite, taking vitamin supplements actually LOWERED the person’s life expectancy.
This is something I have a little disagreement about with many of my friends in Santa Cruz. I realize that many people here are into popping supplements for any and all ailments. Perfectly reasonable people who seem thoughtful shell out gobs of their money for supplements like Airborne, which claims to lessen cold symptoms. In fact, one such intelligent person said to me (with a straight face), “I took Airborne, but I guess I took it too late because I still got sick.”
It didn’t seem to occur to her that taking vitamins doesn’t have any effect on the progress of the world’s most common virus, which has resisted all other attempts to control it. Instead of blaming the company for making unfounded claims, she blamed herself for “not doing it right.”
The idea of “fixing” our bodies with supplements is based on a fallacy. The fallacy is that when foods or herbs contain a certain substance that seems to make our body healthier in the longterm, then it follows that condensing that substance into a pill will somehow do the same thing immediately. The problem is, in most cases this just isn’t true. Although eating a healthy diet is part of keeping your body strong enough to resist disease, taking doses (or even worse, megadoses) of vitamins doesn’t have the same effect.
The name “supplement” is key to the proper use of vitamins. If for some reason a person’s diet is missing an important nutritional piece, or a person’s body needs more of one particular nutritional element, dietary supplements can help. But taking vitamins doesn’t “fix” an unhealthy diet or lifestyle. And though being healthy can help keep your immune system strong, a cold virus is a wily thing.
What worries me particularly about the unquestioning use of supplements is how it affects kids. Since the supplement industry is unregulated, random tests find that contamination with heavy metals is pretty common. (See ) Heavy metals are dangerous for adults; for kids they can have permanent negative effects. Add to that the effect of longterm megadosing in children – no one knows how this is going to pan out. Even vitamins specifically for children often have more than 100% of recommended daily amounts of vitamins. Yet the same people who are worried about buying only organic foods for their kids are filling them with these unregulated chemicals.
We all worry about whether our kids are eating a healthy diet. But in modern-day America, it’s more likely that your kid is getting too much of some things rather than too little. I was concerned, for example, when my nine-year-old just flat out told me he doesn’t like milk and he was no longer going to drink it. But given his diet, which is high in calcium-rich vegetables and cheese, and his lifestyle, with lots of sun exposure, it really isn’t a problem. Most cultures don’t give straight milk to older children, with no devastating effects on their populations.
I just saw a link to a great New Yorker article about over-parenting on a list I read. ( We are all so susceptible to thinking that we’re not doing ENOUGH these days. Everywhere we turn, an advertisement, book, TV show, or article is telling us that we can do more and more to “help” our kids be healthier, stronger, smarter, more successful. What parent doesn’t want the best for his or her kid? It’s really hard to resist this stuff.
And now that I think about it, I’m guilty as charged. I’ve been buying orange juice spiked with extra calcium.
Just in case…

Posted in Health, Parenting.

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