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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Did Your Teenager Eat Recommended Amounts of Essential Nutrients Today?

By Michael McBurney

Children need vitamins and minerals to grow. Calcium and vitamin D are required to build strong bones and teeth. Omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are needed for brain, eye and immune development and function. Lutein and zeaxanthin and vitamin A are needed for visual development and eyesight. B vitamins are needed to access the energy consumed from macronutrients – carbohydrate, protein and fat. What happens when children are undernourished?

In a 12 week double-blind randomized controlled trial (RCT), Tamman and colleagues tested the effect of vitamin-mineral and omega-3 supplementation (vs placebo) in 196 children (13-16y) living in the UK. These were normal, healthy adolescents.  They measured red blood cell (RBC) omega-3 concentrations, vitamin concentrations, and behaviourial changes.

The stunning observation is the extremely low RBC omega-3 concentrations at baseline and the range of vitamin and mineral concentrations measured in these adolescents. The average baseline omega-3 index was between 3.87 to 4.02. Omega-3 supplementation increased the omega-3 index to 5.5 whereas the placebo group remained low (3.69). Baseline concentrations for vitamins and minerals were: vitamin C (60-62 µmol/L), vitamin D (46-61 µmol/L), and folate (10.5 µg/L), and ferritin (38-39 µg/L). Standard deviations were large, indicating many youth had nutritional concentrations far below the mean.

Supplementation significantly increased plasma concentrations of folate, vitamin C, and vitamin D (p<0.001) and RBC concentrations of DHA, EPA, total omega-3 fatty acids, and the omega-3 index (p<0.0005). In other words, supplementation was effective.

Without access to adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids, nutrient availability for normal development of tissues and organs will be compromised. This is known as the scourge of “hidden hunger”. Unfortunately, Tamman and colleagues provide evidence that hidden hunger is not restricted to developing nations. Nor is hidden hunger constrained to iron and vitamin A.

Tamman and colleagues conclude supplementary nutrition may have a protective effect against worsening behavior. The conclusion is not robust because disciplinary rates were 2.5 fold greater in the placebo group than the active treatment group at baseline. Nevertheless, there is evidence that omega-3 supplementation can positively affect behavior in adolescents. Prenatal vitamin use and maternal nutritional status may affect child development.

Is it far-fetched to think that vitamin and mineral status may also affect adolescent brain development and behavior? I think not. Without doubt, adolescents will not achieve their full potential without nutrients essential for the development of their brains, eyes, and bodies.

Main Citation

Tamman JD, Steinsaltz D, Bester DW, Semb-Andenaes, Stein JF. Randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial investigating the behavioural effects of vitamin, mineral and n-3 fatty acid supplementation in typically developing adolescent schoolchildren. 2015 Br J Nutr doi: 10.1017/S0007114515004390

Other Citations

Muthayya S, Rah JH, Sugimoto JD, Roos FF, Kraemer K, Black RE. Global hidden hunger indices and maps: An advocacy tool for action. 2013 PLoSONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067860

Raine A, Portnoy J, Liu J, Mahoomed T, Hibbeln JR. Reduction in behavior problems with omega-3 supplementation in children aged 8-16 years: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, stratified, parallel-group trial. 2014 J Child Psych Psych doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12314

Braun JM, Froehlich T, Kalkbrenner A, Pfeiffer CM, Fazili Z, Yolton K, Lanphear BP. Brief report: Are autistic-behaviors in children related to prenatal vitamin use and maternal whole blood folate concentrations? 2014 J Autism Develop Disorders doi: 10.1007/s10803-014-2114-x