Nutrients for Kids

October 1, 2014
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
7

When it comes to selecting health products for children, there are many to choose from. Some are based on the most familiar of ingredients, and others may seem quite foreign. All of these ingredients can benefit from scientific studies, though. For added assurance for manufacturers and their customers, here’s a handful of nutrients backed by brand-new research.

DHA for Sleepy Ones

Forget, for a moment, all of the botanicals that find their way into sleepy teas, because omega-3 fatty acids are essential for developing brains, and one of them may actually help regulate sleep cycles.

For years, researchers have wondered about the importance of omega-3 DHA in the human brain. It is here that this fatty acid is most abundant, so logic says that DHA must have some sort of cognitive importance. Studies already tie higher omega-3 consumption to better learning, and DHA deficiencies have been linked to a potential for learning disorders. The DHA-and-learning connection, though, might all be rooted in sleep.

Previous research suggests that DHA has a critical role in regulating the brain’s production of melatonin. Published studies since the theory first surfaced add that DHA may be needed for specialty enzymes to transform serotonin into melatonin. As researchers try to understand how DHA works on a biochemical level in the brain, human clinical trials are connecting higher omega-3 levels in the blood with fewer sleep problems in infants, children, and even adults. The latest attempt to tie DHA to sleep involves Life’sDHA dietary supplements from DSM Nutritional Products
(Columbia, MD).

Researchers from the University of Oxford gathered data on 395 kids from UK schools, focusing on a subset that was underperforming in reading. With the help of finger prick tests, parent questionnaires, and actigraphy sleep tests, the Oxford team examined whether 600 mg of algal DHA supplementation, daily for 16 weeks, might somehow
improve sleep conditions. Low blood DHA, and low ratios of DHA to arachidonic acid, were associated with poor sleep in the subset. The most interesting finding, though, was that DHA supplementation improved sleep by a calculated average of 58 extra minutes each night.

For manufacturers convinced by the sleep science so far, DHA can be sold as softgels and capsules. It is also available for making functional foods.

Corn Fiber for Growing Ones

Growing kids can always use a helping of extra nutrients, and if that comes in the form of fruit snacks, so be it.

At Purdue University, researchers assigned fruit snacks prepared with soluble corn fiber to a group of boys and girls. The fruit snacks didn’t just boost fiber intake; when kids snacked on them, researchers actually observed increased calcium absorption. The effect may have to do with changes to the gut environment that result from consumption of this particular type of fiber.

Fiber is a critical nutrient for children’s diets, and so is calcium. Food reports indicate that, during adolescence, dairy and calcium consumption can drop significantly—a notion that is perhaps more concerning for girls, who are prone to bone-development issues later in life. Boys and girls alike, though, tend to go for fruit snacks, so a study like this could warrant fiber fortification with soluble corn fiber in particular.

The Purdue researchers admit that despite corn fiber improving short-term calcium absorption 12% over control, corn fiber did not appear to affect calcium retention. Future studies will have to focus more on this missing link. On a side note, corn fiber also increased presence of beneficial Bacteroidetes bacteria in children.

Probiotics for Sick Ones

Bacteria are for everyone. Even if the word bacteria comes with a history of unsanitary connotations, beneficial strains do exist.

Older audiences already know some of these so-called probiotics, thanks in large part to a variety of dairy products and dietary supplements on today’s market. On the other hand, certain probiotic strains may be best suited for kids—that is, kids with weird throat infections.

Stratum Nutrition (St. Charles, MO), the marketer behind the BLIS K12 strain, recently announced the results of another promising study on its patented strain of Streptococcus salivarius. When 60 children, ages 3 to 13, supplemented with BLIS K12 lozenges or control for 90 days, families in the BLIS K12 group missed 32 days of school or work due to throat infections. The unfortunate families not supplementing missed out on 456 school or work days. Along the way, BLIS K12 users experienced 80% fewer oral infections and a 96% reduction of streptococcal sore throat compared to the previous year. Control groups did not see any improvements.

The latest BLIS K12 study—now published in the journal Drug, Healthcare, and Patient Safety—comes shortly after a previous study on otitis media (middle ear infection) and pharyngotonsillitis, where frequency of these conditions was reduced 40% and 90%, respectively, with BLIS K12. The ingredient, whether consumed in lozenges, gums, or even in ice creams, is looking more and more like a reliable alternative to antibiotics. But what exactly is BLIS K12?

Stratum Nutrition says that its Streptococcus salivarius bacterium is one of the most numerous bacteria living in the human mouth and throat. The strain was discovered  when scientists found it in a child with exceptional resistance to ear and throat
infections.

Zinc for Malnourished Ones

The importance of zinc cannot be stressed enough. Zinc is an essential trace element. But in countries where zinc deficiency is common, and food is hard to come by, zinc supplements may have some good use.

Reporting their results in The Cochrane Library, researchers led by Evan Mayo-Wilson of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health performed about as big of a zinc meta-analysis as you can get. Using data from 80 qualified, randomized controlled trials on 205,401 children, Mayo-Wilson’s team compared health outcomes between children supplementing with or without zinc.

Zinc supplements seemed to influence a reduced risk of diarrhea, an outcome also reported in a previous Cochrane review on fewer trials. The effects of this one supplement, however, appeared to extend to increases in child height and, not surprisingly, a “medium to large effect on zinc status.” Children who consume zinc supplements may experience vomiting as a side effect, but the research team claims the benefits of zinc supplements outweigh this risk—especially when zinc deficiency is prevalent in a population.

While zinc has been associated with reductions in lower respiratory tract infections and malaria incidence in previous studies, this roundup of data did not reach the same conclusions.

Zinc deficiency is a critical issue in many developing countries, and estimates suggest that one of every six people on earth is zinc deficient.

Vitamin D for Everyone

Even though humans can absorb vitamin D from the sun, a significant amount of the U.S. population is still believed to be deficient or insufficient in vitamin D. New calibrations, though, suggest that the amount of people at risk is lower than previously assumed.

Back in 2010, the Institute of Medicine changed its reference values for vitamin D. Instead of defining vitamin D sufficiency as at or above 30 µg/ml of vitamin D in the bloodstream, the agency changed this threshold value to 20 µg/ml.

Using vitamin D measurements from the historic National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers at Loyola University in Chicago pulled a nationally representative sample of 2877 U.S. children, ages 6 to 18. With the Institute of Medicine’s updated reference value in mind, the researchers determined that 4.6% of children are at risk of vitamin D deficiency and 10.3% are at risk of insufficiency. The researchers claim that a 2009 study published in Pediatrics, based on the old reference value, found 70% of people ages 1 to 21 to be at risk for vitamin D
deficiency or insufficiency.

The new data on vitamin D in the U.S. population is now published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Robby Gardner
Associate Editor
Nutritional Outlook magazine
[email protected]
 

Photo © iStockphoto.com/shironosov