Posted tagged ‘vitamins’

Should you buy vitamins from your friends?

September 3, 2015

The Pediatric Insider

© 2015 Roy Benaroch, MD

Alison wrote in:


It seems like every time my (almost 6 year old) child gets sick, a line forms of sales-friends who try to convince me that ‘ever since they gave their child Juice Plus+, they haven’t been sick.’  Could you give your opinion from your medical perspective?  Personally, I prefer to give Flintstones vitamins with the iron, but I’d love to have a better understanding of the best vitamins to give.


Vitamins are an interesting psycho-sociological phenomenon. We know that we need them—if you don’t get any vitamin C, you’re fairly quickly going to suffer a fairly horrendous death—but we barely need much of any of them. Just a few milligrams, here and there, not even every day, will keep you and your children chugging along just fine. But, of course, being the creatures that we are, many people seem to view vitamins as having magical abilities. If a tiny bit is good, a whole lot more is better. Or, since some  vitamins are involved in energy metabolism, taking a whole lot of them will give you more energy. Or cure a hangover, or make you invulnerable to colds, the flu, and presidential debates. Magic!

The truth is, vitamins are just chemicals. Like any other chemical, once you swallow it your body doesn’t know or care if it came from a leaf or a pill; and it certainly doesn’t care if it came from a cheapo pill or an expensive, name-brand pill sold by one of your “sales-friends.” A vitamin is a vitamin. If you think your child needs one (and he probably doesn’t), take an inexpensive one and save up some money to buy more yummy fresh fruits and veggies. Because those, he could probably use. A pill that claims to be a replacement for real fruits and real veggies? Sold as part of a multilevel marketing scheme? Please.

What about vitamins for parents? Several good studies in adults show that people who regularly take multivitamins have poorer health. Makes you wonder about all of that vitamin marketing.

Lead, mercury, arsenic—the mystery ingredients lurking in your supplements

December 22, 2014

The Pediatric Insider

© 2014 Roy Benaroch, MD

Vitamins, minerals, and supplements are a huge industry—about $32 billion sold in the USA in 2012. You might think someone in the government would keep an eye on all of those pills to make sure they’re safe, or maybe make sure that what’s in the bottle is what it says on the label.

Fat chance. Current regulations allow essentially no scrutiny of supplements. Anything that had been sold before 1994 can continue to be sold, no questions asked. Though newer substances are supposed to be registered, they don’t have to await approval before hitting the shelves. It is up the FDA, afterwards, to figure out which of these are harmful. That’s in stark contrast to genuine medications, which have to be proven safe and effective before they’re sold.

In 2013, an extensive study using DNA testing looked at several supplements, finding that many pills made of fillers, rice, and weeds. Almost all of the samples contained cheap fillers not listed on the label, and many contained weeds and contaminants that could cause genuine illness. These were bottles of supplements purchased from several retail outlets from the US and Canada, from a variety of companies. Only 2 of the 12 companies had products that were accurately labeled without contamination.

Now, a new study has shown similar problems with both US- and Indian-manufactured Ayurvedic compounds. 193 samples obtained though internet sale sites were analyzed, and 20% contained toxic amounts of lead, mercury, or arsenic.

Previous studies, reviewed here, have shown that many supplements are adulterated with pharmaceutical products—real drugs—not shown on the label, and not legally sold without a prescription. When the FDA investigates, these companies can change the name of the product and keep selling it. Under current law, it is impossible for anyone to enforce safety standards, or even insist that product labels accurately reflect what’s in the bottle. People are not getting what they’re paying for, and people are getting sick from taking potent or toxic chemicals they didn’t expect.

It’s time for vitamins, supplements, and minerals to come out of the shadows. If they’re safe and effective, they ought to be sold—but if they’re just a load of toxic crap and fillers, they ought to be thrown out, and the companies who’re selling them driven out of business. Why are we giving these huge, profitable companies a free pass to lie about what they’re selling and what their products can do to us?

Who needs vitamins?

November 3, 2011

The Pediatric Insider

© 2011 Roy Benaroch, MD

For November, I’m concentrating my writing chops on National Novel Writing Month. Fun! So I’m re-running revised versions of some classic posts. And by classic, I mean “old.” This one was originally from June, 2008. Enjoy!

“Should I give my kids multivitamins?”

Most of the food in the developed world is fortified with multiple vitamins and minerals. With very few exceptions (we’ll talk about those later), vitamin deficiencies are just about unheard of in the United States, at least among children who have ready access to decent food. On the other hand, an ordinary multivitamin with safe doses of vitamins is probably harmless, and may put your mind at ease.

If you’d like to start your children on a multivitamin, I suggest an inexpensive one that tastes good. Any store-brand generic chewable multivitamin for children is absolutely fine and will cover what you need. There are also “Gummi” forms that some kids like. These are usually packaged for dosing in children age 4 years and up. For your 15 month old, ½ of the 4 year dose is probably fine, but check with your own doctor. At 15 months, you should “pre-crush” a ½ chewable tablet and give it mixed into some food. The multivitamins packaged for 15 month olds are liquids that taste terrible. I don’t know if giving the liquid is worth the fight, but you can try!

Remember that vitamins are medicines, and need to be kept out of reach of children. They’re in cute shapes that kids find attractive. An overdose of a vitamin should be immediately reported to a poison center (in the United States, call 800-222-1222.)

I do not recommend that any parent buy expensive, name-brand, or specialty-packaged vitamins. They are just not necessary. A chemical is a chemical, and a vitamin is a vitamin. Some are sold aggressively through shady multilevel marketing schemes—stay well away from those. You’ve got far more important things to spend your money on!

What are the vitamin deficiencies that do still occur in the United States?

Iron deficiency—this is especially common among children in lower socioeconomic groups, but can affect anyone. Good iron sources are fortified breakfast cereal, red meat, beans, peanut butter, and eggs. If your child doesn’t regularly consume these, either ask your pediatrician to screen him for iron deficiency or get him on a multivitamin with iron.

Calcium deficiency—calcium is best obtained from dairy sources. If your child isn’t big on milk, cheese, or yogurt, you’re may have a tough time finding calcium sources. Consider calcium-fortified juice, or a chocolate-like tasty calcium supplement.

Vitamin D—if your child doesn’t spend much time in the sunshine, or has dark skin, she’s at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Milk is vitamin-D fortified, which helps; but you may wish to discuss your exact situation with your physician. Vitamin D deficiency is more common than many people realize.

So: though vitamin deficiencies are rare, a few individual kinds of vitamins and minerals are sometimes easy to miss for certain kids. You do not have to pay a lot to get a good vitamin supplement. Since there is little risk and little expense of giving a supplement to your children, it’s a good idea.

Additional resources:

FDA info on supplements:

US Dept Agriculture food and dietary info:

Info on individual vitamins and what they’re for:


When Gummys attack

November 10, 2008

Darcy asked: “I was once told(by a pediatrician) gummy type vitamins were bad for a child’s teeth and I should use the Flintstones type vitamins as a better alternative. What is in gummy vitamins that are making them so horrible for a child’s teeth? Honestly, if it the same type of “bad” for my daughter’s teeth as a regular gummy bear I would much rather give her these. She hates the Flintstones type vitamin. Thanks!”

I’ve got here a bottle of Gummy Vites, and the first two listed ingredients are “glucose syrup (corn), sucrose”. Either of these are essentially sugars, which aren’t great to have on your teeth. But they aren’t very big; each 2-gummy dose contains about the equivalent of one teaspoon of table sugar. You could give these before toothbrushing at bedtime, or have your child wash ‘em down with water. In the big picture, I doubt this amount of sugar would make much difference. I can’t imagine what would make a Gummy Vite worse than a regular gummy bear.

The first ingredient of Flintstones is sorbitol, a poorly-digested sugar that doesn’t contribute to tooth decay. What it can contribute to is loose stools and gas—sorbitol is a laxative. But, again, the amount in Flintstones is pretty small, and I doubt anyone would notice the difference.

If your daughter prefers the Gummys, go ahead and use them. They’re perfectly good vitamins, and fighting to get her to chew on Fred or Barney every morning doesn’t sound like it’s worth the yabba dabba doo time.