Vitamins and Nutritional Supplements
There is much recent controversy about the safety and efficacy of vitamins, herbs, enzymes, and nutritional supplements. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), passed in 1994, restricts the FDA's authority over supplements, provided companies do not claim their products treat, prevent, or cure disease. As such, the FDA views nutritional supplements as foods that contain ingredients intended to augment the diet. As a result, the level of standardization for supplements is far less than that required for pharmaceutical drugs, and it is important to use caution when choosing these products. Most studies available use adult populations, and with rare exceptions, (such as teen girls with low calcium intake or those eating large amounts of fast food) many professionals, including the American Association of Pediatrics, warn against using supplements in children, as well as women who are pregnant or nursing. However, many parents prefer to pursue natural alternatives before considering psychiatric medication. You can find accurate and useful information on supplements at the National Institutes of Health (
It is extremely important that you check with your child's doctor or a qualified naturopathic or homeopathic physician before starting a supplementation program. The doctor will help you determine proper dosing for your child's age, and check on potential medication interactions, side effects, or other precautions.
Herbal (or botanical) supplements are dietary supplements that are used for a medicinal purpose. They generally support a specific aspect of the body's health, such as the heart, bones, or digestive system. However, just because a product is labeled as “natural” does not mean that it is safe or without side effects. In fact, many herbal supplements can produce strong effects in the body, particularly if taken improperly or at high doses. People with anxiety should be especially careful when using herbal formulas. Remember also that the levels of standardization in dosing, labeling, and added ingredients are not regulated by the FDA in the same way that pharmaceutical products are and can be dangerous to infants and children.
Vitamin supplements provide extra supplies of micronutrients the body needs for growth, digestion, and mood regulation. Different food sources contain different vitamins and minerals, and a wide and varied diet is the best way to make sure you and your child get enough of them. Supplements can be used in special conditions, under the care and advice of a qualified physician. Vitamins and minerals that are especially important in managing mood and anxiety include:
B Vitamins: Effective in helping maintain adequate serotonin levels, which improve mood and combat the effects of stress. These vitamins lessen the body's tendency to become overstimulated by adrenaline, such as might occur in panic attacks or prolonged states of anxiety associated with PTSD. A good B-complex supplement should contain the essential B vitamins, which are thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and pantothenic acid. Generally, B vitamins are found in meat, fish, grains, legumes, liver, bananas, and some dairy products.
Vitamin D: Supports normal levels of calcium and phosphorus; found in cod liver oil, fish, fortified dairy products, eggs, and sun exposure.
Vitamin C: Antioxidant that supports connective tissue, nervous tissue, mitochondria, and is plentiful in citrus fruits and green veggies. Over-the-counter products like powders and chewables are convenient and kid-friendly.
Mineral supplements provide micronutrients found extensively in bone and teeth. In addition, minerals help the body create new cells and enzymes, distribute fluids, control nerve impulses, and bring oxygen and take away carbon dioxide from cells. One important mineral to help regulate anxiety is magnesium. Magnesium can relax nerves and muscles, and is a natural sleep-inducing element found in legumes, dark leafy vegetables, almonds, and whole grains.
Check with your alternative health care provider or local health food store for powdered products, which can be mixed into tea or hot water at bedtime to aid sleep. These calcium/magnesium blends are easy to take and help relax muscles and soothe nerves, decreasing pain and creating deeper and more restful sleep. Be sure the one you choose is safe for children.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids (EFAs), sometimes referred to as Omega 3s, are natural nutrients that improve communication between brain cells. Their importance in cardiovascular health has been clearly established, and there is good research supporting the use of EFAs/ Omega 3s to manage anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. EFAs are available in coldwater fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, and others. Flaxseed oil contains alpha-linoleic acid, which converts to the EFAs found in fish oils. There are many health benefits to increasing fish in the diet, and flaxseed oil is easy to incorporate into the diet as well. The size of the capsules can be daunting for children, so you may have to add the oil to a food. Some products (especially flax) need refrigeration, and many people can't take fish oils without other food, due to stomach upset and “fish breath.” If either occurs on a regular basis, consider changing your child's supplement or switching to flax.