Vitamins for Kids: Should You Include Iron in a Kid's Vitamin?

Vitamins have been around since the early 1900s and marked a major scientific achievement in the human understanding of health and disease. Vitamins and minerals are the two primary types of nutrients that the human body needs to survive. 

As the world has become more fast paced and people continue to eat worse and worse each year, it is no wonder humans are seeing vitamin deficiencies when they visit their general practitioners for regular checkups. 

Many people do not get an adequate amount of nutrients solely from the food they eat. As a result, they rely on vitamins to help fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, this is also true for children.

While kid’s vitamins can help parents to ensure their children are getting an optimal amount of nutrients, when it comes to iron, most children get the proper amount from diet alone. If your child’s pediatrician says your child may be deficient in iron, then it’s important to make necessary changes. 

What is Iron? 

Many people think of iron as a chemical element. It has the chemical symbol “Fe” and is the most common element on Earth by mass. It’s used to manufacture steel and is common in civil engineering. 

What many don’t know is how important it is for proper functioning of the body. Without iron,  kids can experience being out of breath, feeling tired, and generally not feeling well.

Iron is a mineral that the body needs for proper growth and development. The body uses iron that you ingest through food to make hemoglobin, which is a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. In other words, iron is needed to ensure kids getting a healthy amount of oxygen. Iron is also needed by the body in order to make certain hormones.

Why is Iron Important In Children And Which Children Are At Risk Of Iron Deficiency? 

The amount of iron recommended for children depends on their age. For example, infants might need as much as 11 mg of iron each day whereas children 9-13 only need about 8 mg of iron each day. Babies and children need enough iron to ensure their bodies and brains develop normally. Without enough iron in their bodies, children may develop an iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency can lead to anemia later on in life. Iron is important for children because it helps move oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and also helps muscles store and use oxygen. When iron deficiency occurs, it means a child’s red blood cells have a harder time carrying oxygen through the body. With this, the body cannot be properly oxygenated, which can lead to a host of side effects and potential developmental problems. 

While some children do not get enough iron, it is typically an easy problem to fix through a more balanced diet.

That said, some children are more at risk than others for developing an iron deficiency. Below are examples of children who would be at an elevated risk:

  •   Babies born prematurely or with low birth weight
  •   Babies who drink formula that isn’t fortified with iron
  •   Children ages 1-5 who drink more than 24 ounces of cow, goat, or soy milk each day
  •   Children who have restricted diets
  •   Children who are exposed to lead
  •   Children who avoid eating iron-rich foods

What Are The Best Sources of Iron For Children? 

One of the best ways to keep your child from an iron deficiency is ensuring they are eating enough iron-rich foods. These foods include iron-fortified baby cereal, pureed meats and beans, red meat, chicken, fish, beans, and spinach. 

In addition, ensuring your child has enough Vitamin C in their system can help the body better absorb iron. If your child does not get enough Vitamin C in their daily diet, many children’s multivitamins come with an added boost. However, it is important to ensure any multivitamins you are giving your children use a sugar alternative to ensure they are healthy. Natural foods that contain high levels of Vitamin C include kiwis, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes to name a few.

Dietary iron has two main forms: heme and non-heme. Plants contain non-heme iron while meats and seafood contain both heme and nonheme iron. This is important because childrendoes not absorb non-heme iron as easily as it does heme iron. As a result, if your child prefers vegetables to meats, ensure they are consuming extra iron since the body will not be able to absorb it as easily. 

What Happens If Your Child Does Not Have Enough Iron? 

If your child does not consume enough iron, there could be problems later in life. 

Without enough iron in the system, children can develop anemia, which a condition in which the body lacks the proper amount of healthy red blood cells, and can result in a person feeling constantly weak and tired. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can be mild and severe. As a result, it is important to ensure your child gets enough iron from their diet to avoid developing anemia later in life. 

In addition to anemia, lack of iron can also cause children’s organs not to get enough oxygen. This can be particularly dangerous during the developmental stages of childhood. Without proper iron in the body, children may suffer from stunted nerve development, stunted physical growth, poor cell functioning, and even a reduced ability to produce certain hormones. 

Iron is also an important mineral for overall immune health and functioning. 

Iron is absolutely necessary for children, and proper levels can be obtained simply by ensuring your kids eat a proper diet.

Why Should I Avoid Giving My Child Iron Supplements? 

While there are many multivitamins for children, many do not contain an iron supplement. 

The main reason parents are advised to avoid giving their children iron supplements is that too much iron in the body can lead to iron poisoning. When parents begin to notice potential early stages of iron deficiency in their children such as learning and behavioral issues, social withdrawal, delayed motor skills, and muscle weakness, they may rush to give their kids as much iron as they can get their hands on. 

However, while iron deficiency is dangerous for children, too much iron is also dangerous for them.

According to the NIH, from 1983 to 1991, accidental ingestion of iron supplements caused almost 1/3 of accidental poisoning deaths in children in the United States. This statistic shows that when used incorrectly, or without physician supervision, iron overdose can be extremely dangerous, especially to children. 

Some of the most common signs of iron toxicity include severe vomiting, diarrhea, pale or bluish skin and fingernails, and weakness. Iron overdoses are considered a medical emergency and should be dealt with as such.

Children’s multivitamins should be packed with healthful ingredients, but iron doesn’t necessarily need to be one of them, especially if there’s a risk your child may be eating too many. 

Summary

Most children should be able to get an adequate amount of iron strictly from their diet and without the need of any added supplements

Ensuring your child is eating a well-balanced diet is key to helping them avoid anemia later on in life, and ensuring their bodies develop properly during this important time. 

If your child is a picky eater, it may take some trial and error before finding an iron rich food that works well for them. However, the extra time and effort it takes to curate a well-balanced diet that your child enjoys and will eat is worth it. 

Ensuring your child has an adequate amount of iron in their system will ensure they have excellent developmental growth, it will keep their immune system strong while they are around new germs in school, and it will help to avoid an overdose that could occur due to taking iron supplements.

If you feel the need to give your child iron supplements, be sure to consult their pediatrician first to see how necessary it may be. In most cases, a simple change in diet will do the trick, and your physician can help you find the perfect fix! 

Sources:

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-Consumer/

https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/features/iron-supplements#1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2528681/

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