Expert: More hospitals may discourage supplements for kids

Stony Brook University supplement expert Dr. Arthur P. Stony Brook University supplement expert Dr. Arthur P. Grollman in the lab at Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook. (Oct. 18, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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A Stony Brook expert in dietary supplements thinks more pediatric hospitals may follow the lead of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, which is discouraging the use of vitamins for children treated there.

"They are basically against supplements for children," said Dr. Arthur Grollman, director of the Laboratory of Chemical Biology at Stony Brook University School of Medicine. He said the policy could spur a national trend.

The Philadelphia hospital recently announced it is removing most supplements from its formulary -- the list of approved therapeutics.

In a statement, pharmacy manager Sarah Erush said, "Because vitamins and dietary supplements are essentially unregulated, there is no sound information about adverse side effects, drug interactions or even standard dosing for the vast majority of them."

She said it's unethical to give sick children supplements.

Parents, Erush said, also will be told about potential risks, such as contamination, mislabeling and seductive "all natural" claims.

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Few supplements have been scientifically vetted for sick or even healthy children, experts say, but claims suggesting powerful benefits abound.

In August, the Federal Trade Commission posted details on its website about Long Island supplement maker NBTY and two subsidiaries for claims about their Disney- and Marvel Hero-themed children's vitamins, sold between May 1, 2008, and Sept. 30, 2010.

The FTC said 10,144 refund checks, totaling $425,000, were sent to consumers who purchased Disney Princesses, Spider-Man and other vitamins. Consumers received up to $125 per household. Agency officials said deceptive claims were made about the amount and potential health benefits of DHA -- an omega-3 fatty acid.

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A daily serving, the companies asserted, could help promote healthy brain and eye development, according to the FTC report. Agency officials said the claims were unsupported, and added the vitamins were promoted as having 100 milligrams of DHA, but contained only one-thousandth of that amount.

NBTY, which has headquarters in Ronkonkoma, said in a statement that the issue is old. "This FTC statement was three years ago, there was never a safety issue of any kind and our marketing complies with the law and the FTC settlement," NBTY said.

Laura Smith, legal director of Truth-In-Advertising, a Connecticut-based consumer organization, said deceptive claims easily mislead parents. Her organization recently pressured vitamin-maker NourishLife to change its website and marketing claims.

NourishLife makes a brand called Speak, created for children with apraxia, a disorder typified by difficulty with speech development. The vitamins are also aimed at children with autism, some of whom do not speak.

Smith said the vitamin-maker's website at one point carried testimonials claiming children acquired speech soon after taking the capsules.

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NourishLife president Mark Nottoli said Smith's organization was heavy-handed in forcing changes.

"We could have helped them sort this out in a win-win way but they seemed to be very aggressive," he said.

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