Doctor's Notes | Published September 30, 2011 | Written by Craig Collison, MD, pediatrician, Mount Nittany Physician Group Family Medicine

Should I Give My Child Vitamins & Probiotics?

We all want our kids to be as healthy as possible, especially going into the fall and winter seasons when illness can spread quickly among school children. Many parents ask me if it's a good idea to boost their child's immune system with vitamins and if it's okay to give children probiotics to strengthen their immune system.

Vitamin C is an important vitamin and antioxidant that our bodies use for a variety of processes. It has been used for decades to reduce the frequency and duration of colds, but studies done have been unable to prove large benefits in this regard. Some mild benefits have been seen in patients who have taken Vitamin C on a regular basis, but no benefit has been proven for starting high-dose Vitamin C after the first signs of a cold.

Kids that got the recommended dose of Vitamin C on a daily basis did have a 14 percent reduction in the number of days sick with an upper respiratory infection over a year period compared with kids who did not get adequate Vitamin C.

The best way for children to get Vitamin C is through the diet, mainly from fruits and vegetables. The highest concentration of Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits. Getting the recommended allowance of Vitamin C through a regular multi-vitamin is also acceptable in children who don't get enough of the fruits and vegetables.

Taking additional Vitamin C supplements at higher doses is usually safe but is not a recommendation for children. Too much Vitamin C can lead to nausea, diarrhea, and even kidney stones.

The most important defenses against viral upper respiratory infections are having good, well-balanced nutrition, adequate sleep, frequent hand-washing and avoiding touching the eyes, mouth and nose with your hands. These techniques keep your child's defenses at their best to keep the viruses away and minimize the length and severity when they do get a cold.

As for probiotics: overall, they seem to be safe as long as children have normal immune systems. Many studies are ongoing looking at the effects on kids. Read these in-depth studies for more information:

Craig H. Collison, MD, is a pediatrician with Mount Nittany Physician Group. He treats patients from the Physician Group's Boalsburg and Bellefonte locations.Read more about pediatric care at Mount Nittany at www.mountnittany.orgg/pediatrics.