Do children’s multivitamins do more harm than good?

often advise you against taking the popular “multivitamins found online and in big box stores and grocery stores. Manufacturers aggressively market them to older adults—using catchy terms like gold and silver” to describe the different varieties 

But these companies spend far more money on advertising and marketing than they do on actual product development and scientific research.  

I recently spent some time again investigating multivitamins made for children, since my daughter and her husband are now expecting their first child. And, unfortunately, I was appalled by what I found… 

They throw in everything but the kitchen sink  

Just like those made for adults, mainstream multivitamins formulated for children consistently rank at the bottom of the list in terms of quality by science-based industry standards. And, also like adult multivitamins, they suffer from what I call the “everything-but the-kitchen-sink” mentality. Which means they contain too many things you don’t need…and not enough of the things you do need.  

More specifically, they typically contain inadequate doses, in the wrong forms, and in the wrong combinations. 

So, unless youre living in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon about the Jetsons, taking a tiny little pill at mealtime to meet your nutritional requirements just isn’t realistic. Come to think of it, perhaps comic relief is what the pharmaceutical giant Bayer was going for when it starting making its multis for children. And these formulas would be funny, if they weren’t so disturbing 

Pediatricians’ No. 1 brand of vitamin is just plain bad for kids 

According to Bayer, Flintstones® is the No. 1 brand of children’s vitamins recommended by pediatricians in this country.  

But that dubious honor doesn’t mean much to me. For one, like me and my classmates back in medical school in the 1970smost pediatricians today learned next to nothing about diet and nutrition during all their years of training. (I talked about this problem in the February 2020 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures [“The missing link in medical school”].) 

Secondly, when I dug a little deeper and looked at the ingredient list for Flintstones Complete Chewables®—their original chewable multi for kids—I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the long list of harmful ingredients…   

You might as well give your child a sugar pill 

Right off the bat, I was taken aback by all the different types of sugar in just one tablet of Flintstones Complete Chewables®. There’s not one…not two…not three…not four…but FIVE different types of sugar in these vitamins made for children.  

Let’s take a closer look at those ingredients, one by one: 

  • Fructosewhen it’s found naturally in fruit, is bound in the food biomatrix, which helps to slow down its digestion and absorption. This mechanism also helps the body avoid spikes in blood sugar and insulin. By comparison, isolated fructose in artificial concoctions—like the type included in these chewableshas been shown to cause nothing but trouble. In fact, as I recently reported, Mayo Clinic researchers found that men and women who took artificial fructose had 25 percent decrease in insulin sensitivity compared with those who received glucose. 
  • Maltodextrin is another common sweetener, called a polysaccharide. But it has an even higher glycemic index (GI) than table sugar, which means consuming it causes a steeper spike in blood sugar than eating plain sugar right off a spoon. 
  • Mannitol is a type of sugar alcohol, made by adding hydrogen to fructose. It’s used as both a sweetener and a medication. Since it’s poorly absorbed by the intestines, it doesn’t cause the spikes in insulin like isolated fructose and maltodextrin. However, it can cause gastrointestinal (GI) upset and diarrhea in some people. 
  • Sorbitol is another synthetic sugar substitute chemically classified as an alcohol. And it has no place in the human diet, much less in a child’s diet. It’s also been linked to abdominal pain and GI problems, including irritable bowel syndrome. 
  • Sucralose (Splenda®is yet another synthetic sugar substitute. And according to studies published in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity and the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, there is a strong association between artificial sweeteners and weight gain/obesity in children. (Not surprising, since they’ve come to the very same conclusion about adults who consume artificial sweeteners.) 

And sadly, my concerns over the Flintstones Complete Chewables® formulation don’t end with those five ingredients… 

More truths behind the label 

In addition to the overabundance of various forms of sugar and other sweeteners included in the Flintstones Complete Chewables® formula, there are also a few other ingredients I found worrisome. Such as: 

  • Cupric oxide (presumably as a source of copper)As a nutrient, copper should only be taken in its organic form. But cupric oxide is an inorganic, chemical form. And it has no place in a children’s vitamin. In fact, according to the European Union, it’s listed as hazardous to the environment, as it’s toxic to aquatic life. It’s also used as an industrial pigment in ceramics, as a chemical dye in synthetic fabrics, and in dry cell batteries. 
  • Ferrous sulfate (as source of iron). As I always report, healthy adults and children alike should always get iron from foodsnot supplementsbecause of its link to all sorts of health problems, including cancerThe only folks who should take an iron supplement are those diagnosed by a doctor as having iron-deficient anemia. And what concerns me most about this particular ingredient is that, unless a parent carefully reads the entire nutritional label, they may not realize the product contains iron at all. 
  • Zinc oxide. Here we have another inorganic, chemical form of a mineral. (One that’s typically used in mineral sunscreens, mind you.) And trying to get any kind of mineral from inorganic, chemical forms is like eating rocks. (Maybe that’s why they included it in “Flintstones” vitamins?)   

In the end, instead of trying to rely on these potentially dangerous pills to fulfill your child’s nutritional needs, focus on improving the diet in your household. As always, that starts by eliminating all the ultra-processed foods—and adding in all the healthy, wholesome foods that are part of a Mediterranean-type diet.  

We fed our daughter this kind of diet from the moment she started eating solid foods. And she took to it quite happily, as it’s filled with lots of healthy fruitsvegetables, seeds and nuts, eggs, full-fat dairy, meats, fish, and seafoodNow, she plans on continuing those same healthy habits with her own child. 

Sources: 

“What is maltodextrin and is it safe?” Honolulu County Medical Society, accessed 9/2/20. (hcmsonline.org/resources/news/295-what-is-maltodextrin-and-is-it-safe)

“Mannitol.” C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, accessed 9/2/20. (mottchildren.org/health-library/d00282a1)

“Gastrointestinal Disturbances Associated with the Consumption of Sugar Alcohols with Special Consideration of Xylitol: Scientific Review and Instructions for Dentists and Other Health-Care Professionals.” Int J Dent. 2016;2016:5967907. doi.org/10.1155/2016/5967907

“Sorbitol research and safety.” Medical Life Sciences, 6/16/19. (news-medical.net/health/Sorbitol-Research-and-Safety.aspx)

“Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings.” Yale J Biol Med. 2010;83(2):101-108.

“Artificial sweeteners: a systematic review of metabolic effects in youth.” Int J Pediatr Obes. 2010;5(4):305-312. doi:10.3109/17477160903497027

“Added Fructose: A Principal Driver of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and Its Consequences,” Mayo Clinic Proceedings March 2015; 90(3): 372–381. doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.12.019

“Copper oxide.” European Chemicals Agency, accessed 9/2/20. (echa.europa.eu/substance-information/-/substanceinfo/100.013.882)

flintstonesvitamins.com/products/complete-chewable-vitamins

flintstonesvitamins.com/sites/g/files/vrxlpx4601/files/2020-07/flintstones-complete.pdf 


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