Do teenagers need a vitamin supplement?

Exam stress, insufficient sleep, poor diet, growth spurts… the teen years can be tough on the body. If your teenager is burning the candle at both ends, you might be wondering if they should be supplementing their diet with a multi-vitamin?

The billion-dollar supplement industry has created multi-vitamin products for just about every sub-group of human being, including of course teenage boy and teenage girl. But many nutritionists believe not all teens need a supplement.

“Supplementation is an area that causes a lot of controversy,” says Sarah Leung, dietitian and director of Healthy Energy. “In our daily practice, we only recommend nutrition supplements when it is medically indicated or there are signs of inadequacy in their diet.”

Balanced diet is best

Do teens need a multivitamin?

Image by Nico Paix/Flickr

Sarah says in a growing teenager, some nutrients will have an increased requirement, such as iron (especially for girls) and calcium. But generally, “it is actually not difficult to meet your vitamin requirements provided you have a balanced diet,” she says.

[Related: How much iron does my teenager need?]

Australia’s leading seller of supplements, Blackmores, seems to back up Sarah’s  recommendations. The Blackmores website states: “Children have the best chance to reach their full potential, both mentally and physically, if they get adequate nutrition through diet and help fill the gaps with supplements.”

Blackmores says that a multivitamin may be appropriate if your teenager:

  • doesn’t eat regular or well-balanced meals
  • doesn’t get enough vitamin D through diet or sunlight exposure
  • has a restrictive diet, such as a vegetarian or vegan diet.

[Related: Learn more about a vegetarian’s iron absorption]

Teenagers and alcohol

But what about the effect on the teenage body of binge drinking? Could that be countered by a supplement?

“It is correct that excessive alcohol does increase the risk of vitamin deficiencies, such as thiamine,” explains Sarah. “However, consuming alcohol in moderation will not have significant impact on your vitamin store.”

The recommended safe level of alcohol for females is no more than two standard drinks per day and no more than four standard drinks per day for males, with 2 to 3 alcohol-free days.

“If you found your teenager is drinking excessively, vitamin supplements will help to prevent deficiency. But for the long term, it will be more beneficial to correct excessive drinking behaviour,” says Sarah.

Check the RDI

If you believe your teenager would benefit from a vitamin supplement, Sarah tells parents to find out the recommended daily intake (RDI) for teenagers, as exceeding the upper level of some nutrients can actually cause harm to our body.  “The RDI for teenagers of some vitamins and minerals is actually lower than the requirements for adults, and some products exceed the RDI even for adults.”





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