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Caring for a Down Syndrome Child?

I have a two-week-old Down syndrome grandson. What nutritional supplements would you recommend for him? Is there any current research on the supplement NuTriVene D? If he were your grandson what would you do to improve his health?

Answer (Published 8/4/2005)

Down syndrome children have an increased susceptibility to infection, and some research suggests that these youngsters might have a relative lack of antioxidants in their blood. I checked with my colleague, pediatrician Sandy Newmark, M.D., about the best nutritional approach to caring for Down syndrome children. He tells me that the supplement you mention contains a large number of antioxidants, including vitamins, minerals and some amino acids. While some preliminary research suggests that it might reduce infections among Down syndrome children and improve their growth, no well-controlled studies have confirmed these findings.

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Given the current state of research Dr. Newmark does not recommend giving the supplement to a two-week old child. However, he does suggest giving your grandson a basic multi-vitamin (they're available as liquids in pediatric formulas). He also recommends breastfeeding Down syndrome children for as long as possible.

Throughout nursing, mothers should eat a well-balanced diet, take a multivitamin, and supplement with fish oil if she's not getting enough essential fatty acids. In addition, according to the La Leche League, breastfeeding improves mouth and tongue coordination, giving Down syndrome babies a developmental edge.

Make sure that your grandson's pediatrician is up-to-date on current recommendations for ongoing care of children with Down syndrome. Because almost half of them are born with heart defects, all should be examined by a pediatric cardiologist and have an echocardiogram in the first two months of life. And because more than half have some visual or hearing problems make sure your grandson is examined by a pediatric ophthalmologist to check for crossed eyes, near- or far-sightedness or cataracts by the time he is six-months old. Down syndrome children should also be screened for hearing loss at birth or by three months of age.

With good care, these children can do very well. I wish your grandson all the best.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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