We’re not knocking that loveable and tasty attempt at kids’ supplementation, but children’s nutrition is moving out of the Flintstone’s chewables era and into an age of, well, sophistication. Conditions such as immunity, bone health and brain health are driving parents to shop for the younger set.
“Consumers are looking to provide condition-specific health products for themselves and extend the concept to their children,” says Holly Petty, senior product-innovation scientist at Seltzer Nutritional Technologies in Carlsbad, Calif. “Categories might include immunity, energy, mood and cognitive health and nutrition for young athletes.” When it comes to fortified and functional foods, here are five nutrients you may start to see more of.
Only recently has evidence cemented the proposition that calcium intake in childhood and adolescence can help prevent osteoporosis later in life. Peak bone mass, which is obtained during childhood and adolescent growth, is a key determinant of the lifetime risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture. About 35 percent of a mature adult’s peak bone mass is built up during puberty. Retrospective studies in adults suggest that childhood calcium intake is associated with risk of later osteoporosis and bone breakage. Indeed, one study found that low milk consumption during childhood was associated with a twofold greater risk of fracture among women age 50 and older.
But children’s multivitamins routinely skimp on calcium because calcium is so bulky that to put a useful amount into a children’s multi would make the pill so big that many kids wouldn’t take it. This brings us back to dairy. A 12-year study, concluded in 2008, followed 106 adolescents initially ages 3 to 5. Those who consumed two or more servings of dairy per day had higher bone-mineral content and density.
Children are far more vitamin K-deficient than adults because of the rapid growth of their bones and the consequent high vitamin K demand by bones for production of osteocalcin, according to Cees Vermeer, author of a recent study showing that better vitamin K status was associated with better bone mass in healthy kids. Fifty-five healthy preadolescents who supplemented with 45 mcg a day of menaquinone-7 (MenaQ7 brand natural vitamin K2) for eight weeks showed higher blood levels of MK-7 and increased osteocalcin carboxylation. Osteocalcin is a vitamin K-dependent protein that is essential for the body to utilize calcium in bone tissue. Without adequate vitamin K, the osteocalcin remains inactive.
“The present study is the first one to demonstrate that increased vitamin K intake by supplement improves the osteocalcin activity in children,” Vermeer says. “The next step must be that an effect of MenaQ7 on bone strength or fracture risk is demonstrated in this age group.” These results confirm previous laboratory, epidemiological and human clinical studies linking better vitamin-K status in children with higher bone-mineral density.
In August, the European Union formally approved K2 as a safe ingredient for foods and supplements. Fermented cheese is the best naturally occurring source of vitamin K2 in the Western diet (commercial K2 is derived from natto, a Japanese food made by fermenting soy).
Synthetic menaquinone-4 is also commercially available, derived from animal tissue. It gets excreted from the body more rapidly, making higher doses necessary (mg vs. mcg). However, researchers say vitamin K from food sources are converted in the body to menaquinone-4, not -7. On the other hand, a head-to-head rat study comparing MK-4 with MK-7 found that MK-7 was superior in preventing bone and calcium loss.
It’s important to note that vitamin K research is in its relative infancy, and all research on menaquinone-7 is still emerging and only coming out of a group entirely funded by Natto Pharma (PL Thomas has rights to supplements in North America, while Danisco has rights to food applications worldwide), which has a commercial stake in the research results.
It’s only a matter of time before the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine dramatically increases the recommended daily intake of vitamin D. The question is, will it raise the amount from its current 200 IU a day to 2,000 IU a day, as many scientists and organizations are recommending, or stick to a more modest 1,000 IU?
“Vitamin D, of course, is vital at all ages, and is likely to be deficient throughout childhood,” says Robert Heaney, a professor at Creighton University in Nebraska. “You may have seen the recent publication in Pediatrics from NHANES 2001 to 2004 showing, for the three major ethnic groups in this country, the prevalence of serum 25(OH)D values below critical cutoff points at various ages. The group with the best status [Caucasians] still had more than 60 percent of its members below a desirable figure of 30ng per mL, and for black teenage girls, to go to the other extreme, something like 98 percent had suboptimal values.”
Because all cells in the body have vitamin-D receptors, it’s becoming clear that vitamin D helps enhance cellular communication, which is why the vitamin’s health benefits extend far beyond bone health, including immunity, hormone regulation, brain health, metabolism, diabetes prevention, cancer prevention and cardiovascular health.
The great commercial benefit of vitamin D is that consumers are clamoring for it, regulatory agencies are poised to significantly up the recommended intake, and it’s a very inexpensive ingredient.
Nobody wants to have to stay home from work to tend to a sick child. A July study of 326 Chinese children ages 3 to 5 found that probiotics reduced the incidence of cold and flulike symptoms by 50 percent. Children in the study supplemented with L. acidophilus NCFM and B. lactis Bi-07 supplied by Danisco—probiotics that worked better together than individually. Whereas acidophilus alone reduced fever incidence by 53 percent, runny noses by 28 percent and coughing by 41 percent, acidophilus plus lactis reduced fever by 73 percent, runny noses by 59 percent and coughing by 62 percent.
Omega-3 DHA is a well-entrenched ingredient in the children’s nutrition world in no small part because it’s routinely used in infant formula. For children ages 2 to 5, 200 mg of DHA daily is sufficient.
Research into omega-3s is prodigious. It includes general children’s health and development; autism; attention, learning and behavior asthma; intelligence and visual development. An impressive collection of research can be found at omega-research.com.
Pregnant women who consumed 300 milligrams of DHA five days a week had children who at 9 months demonstrated statistically significant superior problem-solving skills, but not overall intelligence. In 4-year-olds, taking 400 mg of DHA per day for four months led to statistically significant superior listening-comprehension and vocabulary-acquisition skills.
Recent research shows that form might matter. In a double-blind, randomized trial, omega-3 DHA in the phospholipid form supplied by ingredients company Enzymotec was superior to the triglyceride form—the phospholipids group had 94 percent increases in attention meas
Todd Runestad is science editor of Functional Ingredients magazine.