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Symptoms of nutritional deficiencies in children may look different than they do in adults. There’s also some overlap in the symptoms of several deficiencies. It’s important to recognize these so that they can be addressed as soon as possible. Healthy nutritional status is essential for healthy growth and development. Children with developmental delays or neuro-diverse children are especially sensitive to the effects of nutritional deficiencies. It’s also important to note that both picky eaters and children who are problem feeders are at a higher risk for developing nutritional deficiencies. If your child is experiencing two or more of the symptoms below, you may want to consider micronutrient testing to rule out or identify potential deficiencies:
• Pale skin
• Difficulty breathing
• Hair loss
• Heart palpitations
• Tingling in the extremities
• Late start of period, irregular periods, or heavy periods
• Lightheadedness or feeling faint
• Unusual food cravings or cravings for non-food items
• Difficulty concentrating
Based on your child’s test results, your healthcare practitioner can develop a plan and target daily intake of specific nutrients. When addressing nutritional deficiencies, using real foods to reach the desired intake is always the first choice. However, if your child has feeding challenges or needs to take in an amount of a nutrient that is not realistic from food alone, supplementing for a short amount of time can be highly beneficial. The most common childhood nutritional deficiencies and helpful tips to rock those deficiencies are below.
Iodine — Iodine rich foods include seaweed, fish, dairy, and eggs. Especially if your kiddo likes seaweed snacks, sushi, or seaweed salads, most seaweed contains 460+% of the recommended daily value (DV) of iodine. If your child doesn’t eat these foods regularly, consider using iodized table salt when cooking. Supplementation with iodine is rarely necessary unless your child has a thyroid condition. Iodine levels can be monitored easily through saliva and/or urine.
Iron — Iron from animal sources (heme iron) tends to be the best absorbed. Good sources include red meat, organ meat, shellfish, and canned sardines. In addition, beans, seeds, and leafy greens provide lower (but still notable) amounts of non-heme iron. Black strap molasses (https://amzn.to/2YIwOjq is a great, organic option) can be used to supplement iron intake if needed; it’s safe and gentle on the digestive system. Vitamin C can improve iron absorption, so supplementing with buffered or lipsomal Vitamin C or increasing intake of oranges and bell peppers can help improve iron levels. Iron levels should be monitored by checking iron, TIBC, and ferritin about every three months while supplementing.
Magnesium — Eating one serving of whole grains per day provides about 74% of the DV of magnesium. Nuts, dark chocolate, and leafy greens are also great sources. In patients with GI issues or malabsorption, it may be necessary to supplement with magnesium. There are a lot of supplement options: topical (topical magnesium sulfate or epsom salt baths)(go ahead and buy in bulk and be generous when pouring in the bath https://amzn.to/2MKqRQC); oral (choose a product that contains multiple forms of magnesium to improve absorption); or intravenously. Magnesium levels should be monitored by checking red blood cell magnesium levels about every three months while supplementing.
Vitamin B12 — B12 can be a little bit tricky to address because some people lack a protein called intrinsic factor, which aids in B12 absorption. In addition, people with certain MTHFR variants may have issues with methylation and need to use specific forms of B12 if supplementing. Shellfish, organ meat, and meat are all great sources of B12, which should meet B12 needs even if not consumed everyday. However, if B12 levels are still low, oral supplements or injections may be indicated. If your child’s B12 levels are still low, labs indicate methylation issues, or she simply isn’t reacting to supplementation as expected, work with your healthcare provider to insure that you’re supplementing with an appropriate form of B12. They may even prescribe compounded prescription strength B12. B12 levels may not have to be tested as frequently as other nutrients as there’s little risk of over supplementing; excess in general is rare due to how difficult B12 can be to absorb, and if there is excess, it will be excreted via urine. However, monitoring B12 plus methylmalonic acid and homocysteine levels can help to target specific issues.
Vitamin D — Vitamin D can also be a little tricky because deficiencies are often due to the duration and quality of sun exposure. Fatty fish is a decent food source of Vitamin D, but it can be really tough to get sufficient Vitamin D through diet alone (especially if your child doesn’t eat fish regularly). Supplementation can be done through taking cod liver oil, oral Vitamin D, or Vitamin D injections. Vitamin K improves Vitamin D absorption so many patients opt to take a combination product. Direct sun exposure around mid-day for 30 minutes (give or take based on skin color) once or twice a week can also help meet this need; this a a great excuse to get your kids outside playing and more fun than taking cod liver oil. Vitamin D levels should be monitored about every three months while supplementing.
Zinc — Good sources of zinc include shellfish, meat, nuts, and beans. If your child is deficient in zinc, supplementation is often beneficial while building up nutrient stores. From there, focusing on dietary zinc intake will be sufficient. Serum zinc levels should be monitored every three months while supplementing.
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The views expressed in this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition and should not be substituted for medical or nutritional advice.