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Do supplements carry any side-effects?

A: Ms Christine Ong, Senior Principal Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics Department, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group, replied "Some vitamins can be harmful if taken in large doses over a long period of time. e.g. too much vitamin A can lead to increased intracranial pressure & skeletal abnormalities in infants, as well as hair loss, hepatomegaly, lethargy, headache, weight loss, vomiting, anorexia and skin lesions. Too, too much vitamin C can cause gastric irritation and diarrhoea and too much iron can affect zinc absorption. However, so long as an age-appropriate supplement is given to your child in the recommended dose, the levels of vitamins and minerals should be within the safe limits."

Conclusion about supplements for children

It is almost a given that supplements are being used by most parents to fill the nutritional gaps in their child's diet. Whilst it is best to obtain nutrients from food rather than supplements, It is also widely accepted that supplements given in recommended doses to the child do not cause any harm, rather they support and promote the physical well-being of a child.

However, there are certain pitfalls / dangers associated with supplementation and parents need to be mindful of these. These pitfalls are actually associated with supplement over-use and supplement abuse rather than their proper use.

Supplements are not a magic pill or potion

Supplements cannot work miracles in improving the child's health or immunity overnight. As with anything else, supplements will take time to yield desired results. And they will work best if they are taken regularly, are age-appropriate and in recommended doses.

Supplements are not meant to replace meals

It is important to remember that supplements are only, as the name suggests, an add-on to a healthy diet. Supplements are meant to support and complement meals and not replace them. Hence, the emphasis on healthy eating must not wane because the child is taking a multi-vitamin. It is imperative that parents do not over-rely on the use of supplements.

Supplements are medicines, not confectionary

The colourful packaging of kid's supplements may inadvertently mislead the consumer (more so children) into thinking that supplements can be consumed at will. It is therefore important to remember and reinforce at home that supplements are medicines and not a confectionary item or snack. Supplements must be treated with caution just like any other medicine. This means keeping supplement bottles away from the reach of children and ensuring that only the correct dosage is given to the child every day. Do not exceed the recommended dose as over-consumption of fat-soluble vitamins can have harmful consequences.

Supplements need a prescription too

Even though most supplements are available freely over-the counter at pharmacies, it is advisable to consult a paediatrician before starting your child on a regimen of supplements. The paediatricians can recommend the type of supplement and the dosage that will be most beneficial, discuss the dosage and rule out any possible allergy risks depending on your child's age and growth indicators.

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