Sunday, September 16, 2007

Multivitamins, Vitamin C, and Niacin for the Prevention of Childhood Obesity, Diabetes, and High Blood Pressure

Every parent should be afraid for their children. We are in the midst of an epidemic of childhood diseases. I have written several times about the epidemic of childhood neurological disorders that has roughly 1 in 10 children receiving some special education services during the course of his/her education. This column will discuss obesity. According to the September 10th issue of U.S. News and World Report, an incredible 34% of children are overweight. 17% are at or over the 85th percentile of weight for their height, and another 17% are at or over the 95th percentile. Two million youngsters have high blood pressure, and childhood diabetes rates have increased roughly 10-fold since the early 1980’s.

Consumption of manufactured beverages and foods high in refined sugars and fats, and a lack of exercise are two clear causes of the epidemic. Over 20 years ago, two-time Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling wrote a book on nutrition called “How to Live Longer and Feel Better”. His book forbids only one food. That food is sugar. Human beings did not have access to significant quantities of sugar until modern times. Average consumption of sugar from all sources (table sugar and fruits and vegetables) was less than 10 calories per day. Today, average sugar consumption in the United States is an incredible 500 calories per day. At these doses, I believe sugar is toxic for children.

Children are profoundly different from adults. Children are undergoing growth and development. When adults eat too much sugar, there is little danger that it will irreversibly change them. With children, I believe there is every reason to fear that too much sugar can cause permanent and irreversible harm. In the end, it may turn out that sugar isn’t so bad. That doesn’t change the fact that right now parents should be afraid.

Educators everywhere are exhorting children to eat better and exercise more. Sugar is addictive so it is not surprising that there is little evidence of progress. The purpose of this column is to discuss the potential role of vitamin supplements. I believe that the primary function of vitamins is to catalyze the growth and development of and egg and sperm into a healthy adult. Medical authorities and the government insist that 1 RDA of vitamins is sufficient. I don’t understand how they can stand by that position in 2007. Most children are getting 1 RDA and vitamins and yet one third of children are either overweight or in need of special education services at some point during their education. How can these medical authorities and government officials know that vitamin supplements might not reduce the incidence of these childhood conditions?

Vitamin dependent pathways are involved in a large fraction of the chemical reactions that are required for weight regulation and development of the nervous system. It is perfectly reasonable to hypothesize that taking vitamin C, niacin, and multivitamin supplements can improve the odds of a child growing up healthy even if he/she eats a lot of junk food and doesn’t exercise often.

I believe that the importance of vitamin C, niacin, and multivitamin supplements are a function of age. Optimal daily consumption of vitamins is the most important for the youngest members of our society. I recommend 2000 to 3000 mg/day vitamin C, 125 mg time-release niacin two or three times/week, and a one RDA multivitamin/day. This is about half what my own children were raised on. As the children grow, doses per unit of body weight decline naturally.

Vitamin supplements are safe. Parents have no reason to worry whether their children are being harmed by the vitamin supplements they are taking so long as their children are robustly healthy and thriving in school. When all is well, keep taking vitamin supplements every day. When a child gets sick or stops thriving for any reason, it is good practice to stop taking vitamins for several days or weeks and to take the child for the best available medical attention. If a vitamin supplement is the cause, the child will be feeling well again often times before a physician can make the diagnosis. Far more often, vitamins will not be the cause. The child will respond to the medical treatment and vitamins can be added back to the daily routine once resolution of the problem is well underway.

Prior generations of parents had less incentive to consider vitamin supplements. They could do nothing (raise their children on food) and 95 times out of 100 they would watch their children grow up to become healthy adults. Not only are one out of three children today afflicted with a significant healthcare problem, but the consequences for poor health are becoming more and more serious. Today, incomes of the healthiest and best educated fraction of the population are 500 times greater than the minimum wage. The healthiest and best educated use their wealth to travel extensively around the world while minimum wage workers struggle to afford a used car to travel to the local mall.

Most parents want their children to grow up to be healthier and wealthier. Almost all children today are being raised without separate vitamin C and niacin supplements, and only a fraction of children regularly take a multivitamin. The results of doing nothing are clear. Children are suffering from twin epidemics of obesity and neurological disorders. The question for parents is, “Should we risk raising our children differently and causing the temporary discomforts of vitamin supplement overdoses in return for the potential (and unknowable) benefits of improving the growth, development, and intelligence of our children?” All parents will rightfully arrive at different answers for the doses of vitamin C and niacin supplements they want their children to take. As time passes, fewer and fewer parents will choose none.

Today’s children are in trouble. Neurological disorders, obesity, and high blood pressure are becoming common problems. All parents should consider vitamin C, time-release niacin, and multivitamin supplements for their children. The children have much to gain and almost nothing to lose by giving this approach a try.

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