A third of teens take supplements and the rate shunning mainstream drugs has DOUBLED in 15 years 

One third of American children and teenagers are dietary supplements, and an increasing number are taking alternative medicines  according to new research.

The supplement industry has been booming in the US for nearly a decade, with more than half of Americans taking at least one supplement. 

Though some supplements may have benefits for adults – particularly with certain chronic conditions – many make it to market without FDA approval and doctors advise against their use for most children. 

Yet in the last 15 years, the number of children and young adults taking alternative medicines has nearly doubled, according to new research from the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

One third of children and teenagers in the US take some form of dietary supplement and the number taking alternative drugs has doubled in recent years, a new study reveals 

In the US alone, the supplement and alternative medicine industry is worth some $30 million – and is only predicted to grow, exponentially, in the coming years. 

Its meteoric trajectory has come about despite mixed research results. 

There are over 90,000 such products sold everywhere from grocery stores to specialty shops and, of course, online. 

It seems that there is a supplement promised to improve every ailment, lower every risk and fix every flaw: vitamin B12 to help you dodge dementia, probiotics for your but, prebiotics for your gut, vitamin D for a better mood and vitamin C for more supple skin. 

But, ‘we simply do not know if there are any benefits to children that outweigh the potential harms,’ says study author Dr Dima Qato. 

Many supplements are simply compact doses of nutrients and micronutrients we glean from food, so taking the capsules, too, may be too much for children.  

‘This study suggests supplement use is widespread and therefore an important, yet often ignored, public health issue,’ she adds.  

Dr Qato and her team studied data on 7,245 children – including newborns all the way up to 19-year-olds – in the US, between 2003 and 2014. 

They found that a stable 33 percent of those children took at least one dietary supplement during that time period. 

A much smaller proportion of American children use alternative medicines – particularly melatonin and fatty acid supplements – but the rate nearly doubled from 3.7 percent in 2004 to 6.3 percent by 2014.

Melatonin is advertised as helping children – especially those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – focus and sleep better, according to the study authors.

However, some research has linked these ‘alternative medicines’ and prescription drugs for ADHD alike to higher risks of heart problems, signaling that parents should be very cautious about letting their children take both. 

Alternative drugs are not yet that commonly used by children, but the number taking the unproven treatments has doubled from 3.7 to 6.3 percent since 2003  

Alternative drugs are not yet that commonly used by children, but the number taking the unproven treatments has doubled from 3.7 to 6.3 percent since 2003  

‘Adolescents are using supplements to treat common health conditions or adverse effects of prescription medications,’ said Dr Qato. 

‘[The] increase in use of melatonin, which is promoted as having cognitive and sleep benefits. At the same time, other studies have shown an increase in the use of ADHD medications, which we know are associated with a risk for insomnia.’ 

Adolescent girls and boys were more likely to take different dietary supplements from one another. 

Girls tended to prefer folic acid and vitamin B, both of which are advertised to help alleviate depression. 

Boys, on the other hand were more drawn to Omega-3 fatty acids, presumably to help their cognitive performances and, unsurprisingly, a broad category of ‘body building’ supplements. 

‘This suggests that supplement use among children may be targeting specific ailments, but the fact remains that common use of these products in otherwise healthy kids is potentially dangerous,’ said Dr Qato. 

‘Parents should be aware of the dangers, especially as many may be purchasing the supplements for their children. 

‘Health care providers working with children, especially pediatricians and pharmacists, should also take note of the prevalence of supplement use in this age group and ask patients and parents about such use regularly.’ 

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