Natural products and lifestyle habits can significantly influence children’s overall health and well-being, even as the pandemic continues to impact them physically and mentally.
Health issues unfortunately plague all of us at some point in our lives; however, the problems that impact children are often unique in their prevalence. There are several health concerns that profoundly target children and are addressed by pediatricians more often than others. According to Kim Plaza, technical advisor at ADM Protexin, Inc. located in Miami, FL, “A recent report highlighted three prominent areas of health issues for children: mental health, obesity and allergies, such as asthma.1” She elaborated, “A mental health disorder (such as anxiety or depression) may negatively impact a child’s healthy development by interfering with social, emotional, cognitive and academic factors, consequently influencing how they function in daily settings.” She shared that an estimated 3.2 percent of children and adolescents in the U.S. experience depression, 7.1 percent experience anxiety and 7.4 percent experience a behavioral or conduct problem each year.2 As a result, children suffering from these disorders may be predisposed to other health issues as their dietary patterns and lifestyles are affected.
Furthermore, Plaza explained, “Children with obesity often continue to live with this condition into adulthood, predisposing them to an increased risk for a variety of poor health outcomes, such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, arthritis and cancers. Between 2013-2018, 20 percent of children aged 6-17 years old had obesity.” The prevalence of obesity has risen sharply since 1999, particularly among adolescents.
Lastly, she noted that “Nearly 1.7 million children in the U.S. suffer from one or more allergy, equivalent to 18 percent of the population. Between 2010 and 2016, it was reported that there had been a 5 percent increase in children living with all types of allergies.”3 The causes of these challenges that impact children particularly, according to Plaza, are multi-factorial, beginning with social aspects, dietary change overall in our society and microbiome health.
Zoraida P. Aguilar, MS, PhD, vice president for Research Services, DB Science for Bio-Tech Pharmacal (BTP) located in Fayetteville, AR, concurred, and added that another problem facing children is colds. “After birth, children are most susceptible to various colds and other diseases because of underdeveloped immune systems, which get compounded by their exposure to pathogens in schools and childcare facilities … On average, children get about six to 10 colds a year, and these are commonly caused by rhinoviruses and coronaviruses,” she explained. Attending school, therefore, leaves children susceptible to colds and other illnesses that are easily spread among classmates due to their underdeveloped immune systems.
According to Kiera Smialek, ND, FABNP, Natural Kid Doc (Scottsdale, AZ), the main health issues faced by infants are Colic, reflux and eczema; in children, they are allergies, asthma, eczema, obesity, autism, developmental delays and ADHD/ADD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder/attention deficit disorder); and in teens, they are anxiety/depression, obesity and ADHD/ADD. This points to the fact that allergies, obesity, skin health, gut health and mental health represent the most prevalent issues faced by the youngest populations.
Alison Gers, vice president of marketing at Viteyes located in Bloomfield, MI, offered different insight. “Children are exposed to digital devices almost everywhere,” she explained. “From laptops and tablets for educational and recreational use to television, phones and monitors at home and in public, in addition to LED lighting and even the sun, their developing eyes are exposed to harmful blue light nearly every waking hour. This overexposure starting at such a young age could negatively impact their macular health when they are older.” As a result, the development of healthy vision can be impacted, causing poor eye glare recovery and reduced visual performance, Dr. Smialek stated. Sleep patterns can also be impacted by too much exposure to blue light, which may also impact overall health.
Trends/State of the Market
One of the most obvious impacts on most health markets, including children’s health, has been COVID-19. According to Plaza, “Since the pandemic, consumer demand for immune supporting products has dramatically increased. At the peak of the pandemic, 46 percent of consumers reported taking supplements for immune support. As children have been attending school, they will inevitably be mixing with other children, and this will perhaps encourage parents to purchase more supplements in this market area.”
Brian Keenan, ND, lead medical writer, Ayush Herbs (Redmond, WA), concurred, stating that “The market for children’s health supplements continues to grow as parents look for ways to support their children through these tough times and the changes we face.” He shared that the market currently has two major categories that have remained steadily prominent: “Fundamentals/nutritional support: omega-3s, kids’ multivitamins, vitamin D and probiotics; and immune boosters: elderberry syrup, various homeopathics and ashwagandha.” However, he noted, “an emerging market is in mental health, anxiousness and focus support. This has always been present; however, with the switch to online learning, there has been a boom in attention, focus and anxiousness concerns.”
Dr. Keenan believes that the driving force behind the most recent trends is “a fear of the unknown and a desire to protect and for parents to be able to offer the best for their children.” The pandemic has affected children in new ways and may have long-term impacts that we do not yet see. As a result, many parents are turning toward natural products that are considered healthy and safe, such as vitamin C and D supplements.
Dr. Aguilar noted that “The children and maternal dietary supplements market is projected to reach $66 billion (U.S.) by 2024 with a 10 percent growth rate from 2019 to 2024.” She attributed this to “growing awareness of pregnant women choosing to use natural supplements instead of pharmaceuticals. The increased incidence of nutritional deficiency in infants and children and the growing availability of dietary supplements are the main driving forces in this market. The growth is also supported by the social media advertising which is very common among households and individuals.” She noted that the essential vitamins and minerals needed by pregnant women are vitamins A,C, D and calcium, with the most popular being folic acid and vitamin D, as people become more educated about deficiencies of these nutrients.
Building upon her observations, she stated that the driving force within the children’s health category has been influenced by “Discussion on social media and television, [which] has driven the popularity of vitamin D3 as a powerful dietary supplement that is needed by adults and children.” Indeed, the importance of vitamin D in avoiding infection by COVID-19 has been widely advertised across several platforms. Additional impacts of the virus on children, according to Dr. Aguilar, have included “Decreased availability of health care services for children” due to parents’ fear of infection or low income. Furthermore, “Looking at the impact of school closures making the children stay at home resulted in environmental changes in their lives. Exposure to common indoor air pollutants as well as pet dander and molds increased the risk of respiratory diseases, allergies and asthma. This, more than likely, led to the increased sales in allergy and respiratory medicines.”
Matthew Hand, DO, section chief, pediatric nephrology and integrative medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, clinical assistant professor at Geisel School of Medicine, and medical consultant for Little DaVinci (Williston, VT), said that “Children make up roughly 30 percent of the population in the U.S. … Many of the conditions we saw in adults are now being seen in children.” He elaborated, “We are now seeing epidemic rates of anxiety, depression and chronic pain [phenomena], such as headaches, abdominal pain and musculoskeletal pain. Neurobehavioral conditions such as ADHD and autism have reached levels that we have not seen in the past.” He continued, “The exact etiology for all of these issues is unclear, but conceptually we see it as our genes predispose us to these conditions and environmental factors bring them out. When we look at the changes in our food, movement/exercise, electronic exposures, and in particular the overwhelming stress the children are under, there is no question that all of that plays a role in how these conditions are expressed.”
The biggest news that has shaped the latest trends in the children’s health market, Dr. Hand explained, “has revolved around the mental health and neuropsychiatric conditions and kids. COVID-19, in particular, has brough this into the forefront. We hear lots of discussion about how COVID-19 has caused anxiety and depression and worsening neuropsychiatric issues, but for those of us who have been in the field, we know that this was present way before COVID-19. The virus has essentially pulled the curtain away, so we can now see it more clearly and in addition it exacerbated many of the issues that have been ongoing.”
Dr. Elise G. Hewitt, DC, DICCP, FICC, program director, Master of Science in Integrative Pediatrics at Logan University, who also owns a practice called Portland Chiropractic Group (Portland, OR), stated that “a lot of what ails children these days are more quality-of-life conditions, such as breastfeeding difficulties, chronic ear infections, attention issues, and back and neck pain. Chiropractic’s focus on removing musculoskeletal factors that can contribute to these conditions, as well as its focus on maximizing overall health, is driving parents to seek chiropractic care for their children.” She also noted that since chiropractic care has grown in popularity among adults, parents want their children to benefit from the same care that has helped them.
Dr. Smialek observed that the main issues that have helped to shape the children’s health category have been “reports on the increasing number of children with food allergies, increased rates of autism and other developmental delays, and anxiety and depression…in the adolescent/teenage age group since the COVID-19 pandemic. Rates of these diseases have increased, along with suicide rates.” She also noted that the pandemic has affected toddlers, whose isolation from other children has led to concerns and delays in development, particularly social-emotional and language development.
Natural Solutions for Children’s Health
There is a plethora of natural products available for practitioners to recommend to parents who want to improve their children’s health or prevent disease. Plaza shared some of the products created by ADM Protexin, including “Bio-Kult Advanced, [which] contains 14 different probiotic strains. As each strain has a slightly different beneficial effect within the body, a multi-strain is thought to provide an overall benefit toward a wide range of conditions.” Since it is offered in capsules that can be twisted and pulled apart, it is possible to recommend half or quarter capsule doses to children.
For infants specifically, Bio-Kult Infantis “contains seven select strains of beneficial bacteria, including two species that are predominantly found within the microbiome of healthy infants (Bifidobacterium infantis and Bifidobacterium breve). Infantis also includes vitamin D3, omega-3 fatty acids and Preplex prebiotics FOS and gum acacia … The powder can be mixed with milk, water or food,” or directly administered into the mouth, and it does not need to be refrigerated.
Bio-Kult Pro-Cyan “is a multi-action formulation designed to support digestive and urinary tract health,” as does Bio-Kult Candéa, which supports the gut and intimate flora. Bio-Kult Migréa “is a multi-strain, multi-action formulation that contains 14 strains of different probiotics, magnesium and vitamin B6.” The beneficial strains, according to the company, were recently used in a trial which significantly reduced the frequency and severity of chronic and episodic migraines. Vitamin B6 and magnesium were included for their ability to support a healthy nervous system, reduce tiredness and fatigue and support hormonal balance.
Lastly, Bio-Kult S. Boulardii is the company’s first yeast probiotic. “It contains Saccharomyces boulardii, vitamin D3 and Preplex prebiotics FOS and gum acacia. Research has noted that S. boulardii can be particularly useful for preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea,4 for use while travelling5 and potentially helpful for digestive issues which have an inflammatory element.” Many of the Bio-Kult products are backed by human clinical trials.
Dr. Keenan shared some of the children’s products that Ayush Herbs offers as well. The company’s “Ashwagandha glycerite for kids is excellent for supporting immune function, helping with focus and attention, and promoting restful sleep.” Ayush also offers “Kids Trifal, which supports comfortable and easy digestion, healthy elimination, and also seems to be quite useful for children whose first complaint is to get a tummy ache when stressed or worried.” Additionally, the company’s Bacopa Drops have been growing in popularity as focus, attention and anxiety issues grow, which the drops can help. Lastly, Dr. Keenan shared that the company’s product named KuffSoothe supports the respiratory system. “It contains honey and a combination of herbs” that keep the throat comfortable even during the dry indoor months.
Dr. Aguilar noted that “folic acid and vitamin D3 are two of the most important dietary supplements for children from conception to birth and to adulthood.” Therefore, Bio-Tech Pharmacal offers folic acid that comes in “capsules containing 800 mcg, 5 mg and 20 mg potencies. These are available in vegetable capsules (800 mcg) or gelatin capsules (5 and 20 mg).” The company also offers vitamin D3 products at 1,000, 5,000 and 50,000 IU. These are unique “in that these are water soluble in the form of cholecalciferol. As water soluble dietary supplements, cholecalciferol vitamin D3 is more absorbable.”
Dr. Hand detailed 15 products that DaVinci Laboratories of Vermont offers to children from their Little DaVinci line. kiddOmega-3 is a monk-fruit sweetened omega-3 liquid that is easily added to food and drinks and “boasts a high level of DHA to support healthy brain function and also contains nourishing levels of another important omega-3, DHA.” They also offer chewable vitamin C, as well as immuni-z, which contains two forms of zinc, citrate and gluconate; sleep tight, which contains melatonin to support healthful sleep, cognitive performance, mental health and attention span; mightiest vite, a fruit punch flavored multivitamin that contains critical nutrients to support children’s health; focus chewable, an orange-flavored tablet that delivers “some of the most advanced and highly bioavailable nutrients that [children need] to stay calm and alert;” migrasheild, which contains butterbur (Petasites hybridus) which supports the tone of blood vessels in the head; Sync-up, which contains the key ingredient sulforaphane, which supercharges the body’s ability to fight against free-radical damage; immune-z + elderberry in the form of a lozenge to help the throat and sinuses; and kidbiotic powder, filled with beneficial bacteria to help keep children calm and focused, build a strong immune system and avoid an upset tummy.
BTP also offers enz-flame kids, which “combines powerful ingredients that support muscle and joint comfort;* calm, which contains l-theanine acid which balances brain chemicals important for calm behavior and promotes a healthy response to stress;* chewable Kidbiotic to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in a child’s gut and provides important digestive enzymes that help the body break down milk, sugar, fats, proteins and carbohydrates;* d-lightful, which provides vitamin D3 in an easy-to-swallow liquid; and lastly, fizzy mag, which contains magnesium to support systems like the nervous system. The company ensures that their products are based on scientific literature and are as pure as possible, good tasting and contain bioavailable ingredients, according to Dr. Hand.
Viteyes offers children’s supplements that can improve or maintain eye health. Viteyes Blue Light Defender Kids (ages 4+) contains lutein and zeaxanthin, “the only natural defense eyes have to protect the macula from the harmful effects of blue light that stem from digital screens such as smart phones, tablets, TVs, computers and even sunlight.” The company also offers Viteyes Blue Light Defender Blueberry Gummies (ages 12+), which are also formulated with lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as bilberry for added eye health benefits. Lastly, it offers Viteyes Blue Light Defender Plus in a capsule format, “formulated with lutein, zeaxanthin and Astareal astaxanthin for total protection from the front to the back of the eye.” It also contains bilberry and vitamin C. The products are free from common allergens, kosher certified, pectin-based and vegan.
All of these children’s health products can be considered by practitioners to offer patients at their practices. In addition, they may want to recommend some lifestyle preventative benefits and solutions.
Lifestyle Solutions to Promote Children’s Health
Dr. Hewitt focuses on the role that chiropractic care plays in cases where musculoskeletal factors are contributing to the child’s health condition. “As children age, some of the common chiropractic-related health conditions include nursing problems, chronic ear infections, bed-wetting, asthma, growing pains, and of course headaches and back and neck pain. Chiropractic care has also been found to be helpful for children with special needs, including those on the autism spectrum and those with hypersensitivities and attention disorders.” She continued, “Since the presence of musculoskeletal factors can impact health in systems far from the site of dysfunction, the sooner these musculoskeletal factors are removed, the sooner the child can return to 100 percent of his or her health potential, whatever that may be for each child.”
Furthermore, she suggested that parents consider three important aspects to keep their children’s health optimal. First, the diet should be as clean as possible and avoid chemicals and unnatural additives; second, children must develop healthy bedtime routines and get enough sleep, with electronic devices being put down at least an hour before bedtime; and lastly, parents should encourage their children to get as much physical activity as possible, rather than sitting in front of electronic devices. She also recommended that children take a multivitamin, vitamin D and a product with essential fatty acids (EFAs) for foundational wellness.
Dr. Smialek makes similar recommendations to her patients. In addition, she “will also often recommend probiotics for children, since we know that a healthy microbiome is essential for optimal health.” She also focuses on proactive treatment rather than the traditional reactive treatment, in which symptoms are treated as they arise instead of prevented in the first place.
Plaza noted that “In the U.S., it is recommended that children undertake at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. These activities should incorporate exercises to strengthen muscle and bone at least three times per week, such as jogging, cycling and trampolining. Physical activity has a well-established preventative role against childhood obesity, and findings from a range of studies suggest that promoting physical activity and decreasing sedentary behavior may also protect mental health in children and adolescents.” Furthermore, considering the stress of exams, stress and social media influences, parents should encourage children to incorporate relaxation into their daily lives to reduce anxiety and improve overall sleep and wellness.
Dr. Keenan opined that “The best natural approaches right now include managing screen time, promoting in-person community within the family/social group, sunlight, outdoor time, and removing any unnecessary stressors on the body such as fried foods and excess dairy consumption.” He also noted that normalizing emotions is important to their mental and emotional aspects of health as they age. In addition, he stressed that it is important to give children a healthy diet that focuses on fiber from green leafy vegetables wherever possible. By providing a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, children can learn how to maintain a healthy diet at an early age and continue it into adulthood.
Advice for Practitioners
Dr. Aguilar noted that “The innocence of children when it comes to their health and well-being is always a challenge to practitioners. Most of the time, when they are in discomfort, they do not understand why, and they cannot express the ill-feeling that they are going through …Some practitioners who stoop down to the level of a child’s understanding can connect with them. It takes patience and the willingness to be a child again for practitioners in health and medicine to understand children. For older children, simple explanations on natural and medical approaches to their conditions are better grasped than the medical jargons.” She also explained that “Although children may be at tender ages when they require medical attention, they do deserve to be told of their health conditions, albeit, in simple terms.”
Dr. Hewitt stated that “As health care providers, we best serve patients by taking a team approach and working together to optimize the health and well-being of our pediatric patients.” Then, different experts can offer their perspectives on the child’s health, as “all healthcare providers have different skill sets and different areas of expertise. No one practitioner holds all the answers for a child’s health conditions. Each provider has one piece of the puzzle, so to speak, and by working together, we can solve the puzzle and maximize each child’s health.”
Dr. Smialek opined, “I believe one of the most important aspects of treating children is establishing a trusting relationship with them (and their parents). This allows a practitioner to treat the child more effectively because parents and the child trust and respect their practitioner.” Furthermore, she believes in the importance of educating and empowering both patients and parents, as they will be more willing to follow through with treatment recommendations. “It’s not always about the type of medicine we provide,” she continued, “but more often about how we interact with our patients.”
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
1 Interagency Forum on Child F, Statistics F. America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2020. 2020 www.census.gov (accessed Aug 25, 2021).
2 Ghandour RM, Sherman LJ, Vladutiu CJ, et al. Prevalence and Treatment of Depression, Anxiety, and Conduct Problems in US Children. J Pediatr 2019; 206: 256-267.e3.
3 Bluecross Blueshield. CHILDHOOD ALLERGIES IN AMERICA: Severe Allergic Reactions Causing More Emergency Room Visits for U.S. Children. 2018 www.annallergy.org/article/S1081-1206 (accessed Aug 25, 2021).
4 Szajewska H, Kołodziej M. Systematic review with meta-analysis: Saccharomyces boulardii in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. Aliment. Pharmacol. Ther. 2015; 42: 793–801.
5 McFarland L V., Goh S. Are probiotics and prebiotics effective in the prevention of travellers’ diarrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Travel Med Infect Dis 2019; 27: 11–9.
Healthy Take Aways
• Between 2013-2018, 20 percent of children aged 6-17 years old had obesity.
• An estimated 3.2 percent of children and adolescents in the U.S. experience depression, 7.1 percent experience anxiety and 7.4 percent experience a behavioral or conduct problem each year.
• Nearly 1.7 million children in the U.S. suffer from one or more allergy, equivalent to 18 percent of the population.
• On average, children get about six to 10 colds a year, and these are commonly caused by rhinoviruses and coronaviruses.
For More Information:
ADM Protexin, Inc., www.protexin.com
Ayush Herbs, www.ayush.com
Bio-Tech Pharmacal, www.biotechpharmacal.com
DaVinci Laboratories of Vermont, www.davincilabs.com
Natural Kid Doc, www.naturalkiddoc.com
Portland Chiropractic Group, www.portlandchiropracticgroup.com