In a world where medical options seem endless, practitioners provide their take on the holistic choices available to children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, 84 percent of U.S. children ages 5-11 are considered to be in “excellent or very good health,” via a 2016 survey. However, 3.7 percent of U.S. children (ages 5-11) missed 11 or more school days in the past 12 months because of illness or injury back during that same year.
While it is important to take statistics like these into consideration, it is just as vital for practitioners to focus on how their own young patients are progressing, whether it is during the growth and development process or when fighting illness. By being aware of the various studies out in the field, professionals in the medical field can know that they have the proper tools to ensure that babies, children and teens can grow to become adults in a healthy manner.
Types of Health Issues
Starting in a child’s early years, immunity can certainly be a matter of concern. However, this can be addressed with the utilization of the proper items.
“Immune system issues are always prevalent in children, partly because their immune systems have not had challenges to improve resistance, and because they have high levels of exposure to other children,” noted Cheryl Myers, chief of scientific affairs and education at Wisconsin-based EuroMedica. “To build a strong immune system, quality raw materials are needed that may not be supplied by the diet. To that end, a good foundation starts with BioActive Essentials and EurOmega-3.”
It is also important to determine the potential cause of these issues in order to avoid a chain-reaction effect. “This list could go on and on—to focus on just one which is pervasive among children and teens is stress,” said Nada Milosavljevic, MD, JD, founder and CEO of Sage Tonic and author, Holistic Health for Adolescents: How Yoga, Aromatherapy, Teas, and More Can Help You Get and Stay Well. “If left unchecked, it can be a slippery slope to [a] host of other chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease, depression, sleep disorders and others.” Dr. Milosavljevic described several factors that can contribute to stress, such as:
• Diet: As with adults, inadequate nutrient or dietary intake is a serious concern. Nutrient-deficient diets are stressful to the body and can contribute to a host of medical conditions. During mental and physical development, inadequate nutrition is especially damaging, and can have long-term, and irreversible consequences.
• Social Pressures: Adolescents famously experience pressures to look or behave in certain ways, or to do things because their peers are doing them. They are often exposed to risky behaviors such as underage alcohol or drug use, and may feel trapped by social expectations. Of course, many times the peer pressures stray from what their parents recommend or demand, resulting in additional tension. Moreover, mental and or physical abuse may be impossible for an adolescent to talk about because of social pressures. Left untreated, stress can cause an adolescent to become isolated and have feelings of poor self-worth.
• Illness/infection: Any illness prompts the body to mount an immune response; the resulting healing process can be stressful and place high-energy demands on the body. Chronic illnesses place an increased burden on any adolescent, and can contribute to significant long-term stress.
• Physical: Bodily changes that alter appearance and functionality can cause stress in many ways. Changes such as pimples, vocal shifts, height, body odors, excess body hair and menstrual cycles can all contribute to the awkwardness an adolescent may feel about their own body. Sleep deprivation, common in the adolescent population, has been shown to elevate cortisol levels and can cause a physiologic inability to remain focused, or even to look healthy.
• Psychological: Beliefs and ideals begin to change with adolescence, and often no longer align with parental ideals. Choice of religion or political ideas may change as new discoveries are made; parents may become concerned. Sexual orientation is another discovery that may not gain parental approval, which can cause the adolescent to feel unloved and misunderstood.
• Other stressors: Difficulty in school, trouble meeting and making new friends, keeping up with fashion and trends, not having the funds to join in interests with others, can all further contribute to stress and anxiety.
Just as Dr. Milosavljevic alluded to, it is essential for children to be consuming the proper nutrients.
According to Susan M. Piergeorge, MS, LDN, RDN at Rainbow Light in Florida, this should actually begin at the preconception level. In fact, the manufacturer not only offers Vibrance prenatal multivitamins according to which trimester a woman is in, but also a plethora of other items including the Kids One Multivitamin. “Nutrition is critical for the first five years for physiological and mental development of babies, toddlers and young children,” she explained. “This is a time for accelerated growth and brain development. The goal is to optimize nutrition for the mother from preconception, during pregnancy and through lactation for the child. Optimizing nutrition for children for the first 1,000 days has been shown to promote healthier quality of life and prosperity later in life.
“Healthy immune systems are a focus. Ingredients/nutrients, which have been gaining popularity include choline, vitamin D, K2, pre- and probiotics, lutein and omega-3 fatty acids. With food allergies on the rise, vitamin K2 and calcium are significant for bone health if parents are avoiding dairy with their children. New research is showing many infants and children are actually deficient in vitamin K. For brain development, adequate iron and iodine are critical for healthy growth and development of the brain. Choline also supports healthy neurological and brain development. EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) are essential for proper development of the eye, brain, central nervous and immune systems. Research shows when children consume EPA and DHA, they show improved learning, focus and social skills. Lutein promotes healthy eyes and brain, and is associated with improved learning.”
Piergeorge also referenced childhood obesity as a “rising trend,” and suggested exercise, education, lifestyle and emotional support as possible ways to help reduce it.
Choosing the Natural Path
Many practitioners may agree with the fact that patients ought to seek the proper nutrients via diet to start out, and this recommendation would apply no differently to children. However, obtaining the necessary amount to stay healthy may not be possible from food alone, so practitioners could consider recommending supplements, such as iron, vitamin D and vitamin C among others.
“I think that the best natural remedies are the ones that we find in foods, like micronutrients (vitamins and minerals),” described Nicole Avena, PhD, assistant professor, Mount Sinai School of Medicine (New York), visiting professor of health psychology, Princeton University (New Jersey) and author of What to Feed Your Baby & Toddler: A Month-by-Month Guide to Support Your Child’s Health and Development. “However, children don’t always eat a balanced diet, so supplementals are usually necessary in order to make sure that they get everything that they need to stay well. Many illnesses can be linked back to deficiency in one or more micronutrient. For example, low levels of iron consumption can be associated with weakness and lethargy, as well as anemia. So, in addition to taking a multivitamin each day, I recommend that children get checked for low iron levels and if needed, take a supplement. Also, I suggest a vitamin D and C supplement, as most children are low in these.”
Natalie Lamb, technical advisor with Florida-based Protexin (manufacturers of the Bio-Kult brand, makers of Infantis) is a firm believer in probiotics, as previous results have demonstrated promising results in the field of combatting issues ranging from children’s digestive health to a reduction in fever. “Probiotics are live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.1 Probiotics have been shown in studies to positively influence the infant’s gut flora balance, digestive function and developing immune system2 and have shown promising results in the prevention and treatment of infectious diarrhoea3 and allergy in particular in infants,4” Lamb explained. “Probiotics appear to be more effective at preventing allergic conditions such as eczema than treating them.5 A study by Leyer et al in 20096 showed a multi-strain probiotic to reduce the incidence of fever in children by 72 percent and coughs by 62 percent. Research suggests that a probiotic given directly to an infant is more likely to become part of its resident gut flora opposed to that given to the mother and delivered via the breast milk.7 Probiotics have been shown safe to take from infancy.3
“During antibiotic therapy, extra protection could be provided by consuming a probiotic supplement at the same time as antibiotic therapy, although at least two hours apart and continued for at least two to four weeks after completion of the antibiotic course at a dose of ≥ 5 billion CFUs/day,3” Lamb continued.
However, if parents are adamant about nutrition being priority number one, solely having the proper diet can still go a long way—parents and children can work hand-in-hand in making the meal-creating process a more enjoyable one. “For children, eating healthy can be fun!” Dr. Avena said. “Also, although it might now seem important now, eating a well-balanced diet will help you stay strong and healthy as you get older. You can make eating healthy fun by finding recipes you want to try to make with your family and friends. For parents, I would suggest to focus on health when it comes to talking about your child eating healthier foods. It can be hard for children to try new things, so encourage them to be a part of the decision-making process. Instead of ‘telling’ them that they have to eat vegetables, ask them which of two or three vegetables they would like for you to prepare. Also, get older kids involved in cooking in the kitchen! It is hard to not like food you prepared yourself!”
If looking to possibly prevent issues such as weight gain, among others, avoiding processed foods should be considered. These items only provide temporary solutions.
“As always, I’d recommend an anti-inflammatory diet that focuses on whole, unprocessed foods, few—if any—grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables (but not fruit juices),” Myers suggested. “The ingredients in processed foods and refined carbs might satisfy cravings, especially among ravenous teens, but they provide short-lived comfort and potentially long-lasting problems like weight gain, immune system disorders and emotional excitability.”
The ever-evolving market of children’s health provides a positive outlook to its future.
At this point in time, the market for products in the children’s health space is continuing to gain popularity—in fact, there has been a decrease in separation between the uses of alternative versus traditional medical treatments.
“Currently,” explained Dr. Milosavljevic, “the integrative medicine or CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) industry is approximately $30 billion in the U.S. Specific to U.S. children, about 12 percent use some form of CAM treatment. By all accounts, these figures are expected to rise. In the past 15 years, many of the barriers that have separated CAM therapies from traditional scientific health care have begun to come down. One of the most notable changes is the interest by the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health in seriously studying CAM and Integrative Health through its NCCIH (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health) division.”
Another reason for the upward trend in this category is the plethora of delivery systems that are at children’s disposal. “While it is preferred that children get their nutrients through the food they eat, Rainbow Light offers dietary supplements intended to help fill gaps in nutrition for infants and children through adolescence,” Piergeorge described. “The market for children’s supplements continues to be strong with the growth of delivery forms that appeal to children, especially gummies, chewables and even liquids. Ensuring excellent quality through organic, non-GMO (genetically modified organism), vegetarian and the absence of major allergens is also important.”
An additional detail to consider is that traditional medication (over-the-counter) may present side effects, which consumers are continuously becoming aware of. “Parents are eager to find more holistic solutions to their children’s health than prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs, because we are all becoming more acutely aware of their side effects,” Myers explained. “So overall, I believe the state of the market is strong, especially when an integrative practitioner is helping direct a course of natural medicine.”
According to Lamb, “ the specific synbiotic blend of seven strains of live bacteria and a prebiotic within Bio-Kult Infantis have demonstrated positive outcomes in a number of clinical trials.” Examples of such include:
• Reduced diarrhea in gastroenteritis8
• Improved constipation9
• Improved symptoms of eczema10
• Improved symptoms of colic11
Over the years, technology has dramatically advanced, which has allowed for more productive ways to keep track of children’s issues and even manufacture products.
“Historically, the notions of children’s health have evolved tremendously,” said Dr. Milosavljevic. “Greater and enhanced public health models and types of monitoring have improved. Further, health care delivery has become more patient specific and tailored treatment plans individualized to a specific patient are increasing.”
Dr. Avena mentioned that at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the research lab studies nutrition throughout one’s lifespan, including a look into how the foods people consume affect health and behavior long term. In fact, one of its recent papers demonstrated that there is a connection between over consuming high-fat foods during pregnancy and a preference for fat in the offspring later on in life. Overall, she believes that health and wellness is now taking a more proactive approach.
“I think more scientists are interested in understanding how we can improve health and prevent illnesses by improving our environment,” Dr. Avena added. “For me, that has focused on utilizing what we know about nutrition to optimize health and promote wellness. I think we are moving away from treating problems after they have emerged, and more focus now is on how we can prevent them in the first place.”
1. FAO/WHO Expert Consultation. Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics.
2. Schultz M, Göttl C, Young RJ, Iwen P, Vanderhoof JA. Administration of oral probiotic bacteria to pregnant women causes temporary infantile colonization. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2004; 38(3):293-7.
3. Johnston BC, Goldenberg JZ, Vandvik PO, Sun X, Guyatt GH. Probiotics for the prevention of pediatric antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011; (11):CD004827
4. Edwards CA, Parrett AM. Intestinal flora during the first months of life: new perspectives. Br J Nutr 2002; 88 Suppl 1:S11-8.
5. Lee J, Seto D, Bielory L. Meta-analysis of clinical trials of probiotics forprevention and treatment of pediatric atopic dermatitis. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2008; 121(1):116-121.e11.
6. Leyer GJ, Li S, Mubasher ME, Reifer C, Ouwehand AC. Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children. Pediatrics 2009; 124(2):e172-9.
7. Abrahamsson TR, Sinkiewicz G, Jakobsson T, Fredrikson M, Björkstén B. Probiotic lactobacilli in breast milk and infant stool in relation to oral intake during the first year of life. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2009; 49(3):349-54.
8. Yala ET. The clinical efficacy of multi-strain probiotics (Protexin) in the management of acute gastroenteritis in children two months to two years old. PIDSP Journal 2010; 11(2):86-91.
9. Khodadad A, Sabbaghian M. Role of synbiotics in the treatment of childhood constipation: a double-blind randomized placebo controlled trial. Iran J Pediatr 2010; 20(4):387-92.
10. Farid R, Jabbari F, Ahanchian H, Moghiman T. Clinical and immunogical Effect of Probiotic In childhood Atopic Dermatitis. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2010; 125(2).
11. Kianifar H, Ahanchian H, Grover Z, et al. Synbiotic in the management of infantile colic: a randomised controlled trial. J Paediatr Child Health 2014; 50(10):801-5.
Healthy Take Aways
• According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, 84 percent of children ages 5-11 are considered to be in “excellent or very good health,” via a 2016 survey.
• During antibiotic therapy, extra protection could be provided by consuming a probiotic supplement at the same time as antibiotic therapy, although at least two hours apart and continued for at least two to four weeks after completion of the antibiotic course at a dose of ≥ 5 billion CFUs/day.
• The integrative medicine or CAM industry is approximately $30 billion in the U.S. Specific to U.S. children, about 12 percent use some form of CAM treatment.
For More Information:
Nada Milosavljevic, MD, JD, www.sagetonic.com
Nicole Avena, PhD, www.drnicoleavena.com
Protexin, Inc., www.bio-kult.com
Rainbow Light, www.rainbowlight.com