As if the 11- to 19-year-old set didn’t have enough to worry about. Between physical transformations, roller coaster hormones, complex social circles, grades, sports, unreasonable parental demands, and the agony of defining relationship status on Facebook, they face plenty of challenges on a daily basis.
Little wonder that nutrition falls low on teenagers’ lists of priorities. No time for lunch? Grab a bag of chips and a soft drink. Hungry after school? Eat a slice or two of pizza. Up late studying? Sugary coffee drinks are available, seemingly, on every corner.
Just as they start to spend more time outside the house and away from the family table, young people need adequate nutrient intake—perhaps more than ever. Fortunately, thoughtful supplementation can help bridge the gaps in an oh-so-imperfect diet. The right vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other natural products support physical and mental well-being. They can even contribute to a clear complexion.
It’s important for teens to discuss food choices and supplementation (along with any medication they may be taking) with their parents and healthcare providers. While many natural options are considered safe and effective, other products—including some meant to boost athletic performance—are not appropriate for teenagers. Others may lead to adverse interactions. A qualified practitioner can provide individualized nutrient guidance.
Be Well in Body
To ensure that growing bodies are nourished every day, it’s wise to start with a multivitamin/mineral. (Adult products are appropriate for teens, say nutrition experts.) After puberty, girls and boys have slightly different needs, so consider selecting a gender-specific formula.
Although these basic supplements provide a good foundation, they can’t always include enough of key ingredients. The bone-building nutrients calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D are particularly important during adolescence—in amounts that don’t easily fit into a daily multi. Why focus on bone health now? It’s crucial to help protect against osteoporosis later in life. Approximately 35 percent of an adult’s peak bone mass is acquired during puberty, and bones have stored up to 90 percent of the calcium they will contain throughout adulthood by the late teens.
Regularly gulping soft drinks robs key minerals from the bones, leaving both girls and boys at risk during a time of increasing bone mass and later in life.
Support Strong Bones
Recent research among adolescent girls with low calcium intake shows that daily supplementation with 792 milligrams (mg) for 18 months effectively improved bone mineral accrual and content. However, the benefits don’t last if supplementation is discontinued, the British researchers report. (During the typical growth spurt period between ages 12 and 15, boys require between 1,200 and 1,500 mg calcium daily from diet and supplements combined.) Calcium intake has also been inversely associated with body fat and insulin resistance among adolescents; that is, individuals with higher intakes of this mineral are less likely to be overweight and tend to have healthier blood sugar levels than teens with a low intake.
Recommended at a 2:1 ratio to calcium, magnesium is another piece of the bone health puzzle. Intake of this mineral is correlated to bone density in adults, and Yale University researchers have found similarly positive results in adolescent girls. These youngsters took either a magnesium supplement (300 mg divided into two doses) or a placebo for one year. At study’s end, the supplement group showed significantly increased bone mineral density in the hips compared to the placebo group. Magnesium was described as safe and well tolerated by the study authors.
Take calcium and magnesium together, vitamin D works synergistically with bone-strengthening nutrients; each one requires the other for proper absorption and utilization. The bad news? Research published this year in Pediatrics finds that one in seven American teens is deficient in D, which may further endanger bone health. What’s more, a recent study shows that youngsters who are low or deficient in vitamin D tend to have higher body mass indexes, greater fat masses, and lower insulin sensitivity—increasing the risk for Type 2 diabetes. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recently upped their recommendation for daily intake from 200 to 400 IU, many experts call for still higher levels. A trial last year involving healthy kids and teens between the ages of 10 and 17 determined that up to 2,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 (given for one year) safely raised blood levels of D to desired amounts.
Be Smart About Fiber
It’s not a vitamin or mineral, but fiber is another essential component of a teen’s diet. Adequate soluble and insoluble fiber keeps the digestive tract functioning properly; this bulky substance also increases feelings of fullness and keeps hunger at bay longer. Another benefit? Getting enough fiber is a key component of achieving and managing a healthy weight.
Kids and adults need about 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories they eat. For teenage girls, that computes to approximately 26 grams of fiber daily; for boys it’s roughly 38 grams. If a youngster isn’t eating a wide variety of whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, and beans or legumes every day, he or she may benefit from a natural fiber supplement such as psyllium. (Remember to drink plenty of liquids whenever upping fiber intake.)
Manage Everyday Stress
In The 24-Hour Pharmacist, Suzy Cohen, RPh, notes that some common medications (including synthetic hormones) rob the body of nutrients that affect mood. She suggests the following supplements to replace those depleted by meds—or for anyone who occasionally faces low moods.
- Vitamin C, buffered, in divided doses
- B vitamins: B6, B9 (folate), and B12 (riboflavin)
Few Americans of any age receive enough omega 3s (found in coldwater, fatty fish) from diet alone. Since these essential fatty acids play a key role in brain health—encompassing cognition, focus, and mood—this shortfall is cause for concern for teens’ academic and social growth. To support mental well-being, Cohen recommends 1,000 mg high-quality fish oil (containing both DHA and EPA) taken three times a day with meals. Though fish oil is the preferred source of these healthy fats, there are vegetarian- and vegan-friendly alternatives. These include flaxseeds, chia or Salba (a proprietary, heirloom seed), and marine algae-based supplements.
Herbs that gently help the body and mind adapt to stress and encourage balance are called adaptogens. According to herbalist David Winston, RH(AHG), “They increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors and provide a defense response to acute or chronic stress.” Examples include rhodiola, holy basil, and eleuthero—all of which appear to modulate adrenaline and cortisol levels. The medicinal mushrooms cordyceps and reishi have similar properties. Many adaptogens may be safely used either in the short or long term. Talk to a practitioner trained in botanical medicine about herb selection and dosage.
Look Your Best
A deficiency of essential fatty acids (EFAs) encourages the production of sebum, the body’s natural oil. Anyone not already taking EFAs (in the form of flax oil or fish oil) to support a healthy mind and mood may consider supplementing for clearer skin. Experts also recommend the following nutrients to fight acne by reducing oil production and promoting skin healing:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6
Addressing Safety Concerns
If you’ve seen supplements in the news recently, the story may have been about sports figures’ abuse of dangerous or illegal substances. It might have gone on to question the safety of all supplements.
What are teens, especially those who are competitive athletes or those who work out regularly, to make of all this? What’s safe to take—and what ought to be off limits?
In a small health survey conducted by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, 17 percent of children ages 10 to 14 reported using a sports supplement. Their reasons included wishing to enhance athletic performance, build muscle, and improve appearance.
It’s important for adults to talk to children and teens about all substances (including natural products) they’re exposed to. Discuss the differences between safe, healthy supplements versus potentially dangerous products. For example, many athletes choose appropriate supplements such as sports drinks and bars, protein powders, and multivitamins. On the other hand, steroid hormone precursors, ephedrine, or high-caffeine substances are not safe choices.
Contrary to what some news outlets are reporting, the supplements on the shelves of your natural products store are regulated by a system known as the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), enacted in 1994. This legislation established standards for dietary supplement ingredient safety, mandated evidence-based labeling claims, and ruled on how companies must communicate accurately and clearly to consumers. Under the current rules, selling adulterated or misbranded products is against the law.
Congress and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have updated regulations in recent years. In 2006, Congress passed a law requiring manufacturers of dietary supplements to report any serious adverse effects associated with their product to FDA. This agency also requires that companies meet strict good manufacturing practices. These rules, known as GMP, ensures that products are consistently manufactured to so that the label accurately reflects what is (and what’s not) in the package.
If you or your family members have questions about the safety of specific substances, talk with your health care provider or the trained staff at the store that gives you this magazine. You may also choose to contact manufacturers directly for more information.