Down syndrome and nutritional supplements

A study recently published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) concludes that giving supplemental antioxidants, or folate, or a combination of both to babies with Down syndrome does not increase language development or motor skills.

The study was conducted on 156 babies younger than 7 months, for an 18 month period.  Participants were placed in 4 groups:  one group was given folate supplements, one group was given extra antioxidants, a third group was given both supplements, and the fourth was given a placebo.  (More information  on the study has been published online at ScienceDaily.)

I spent an entire chapter in Road Map to Holland discussing the issue of nutritional supplements.  I remember my editor asking, “Is this important enough to warrant such a lengthy discussion?”  and my reply was, yes! 

Then, and now, I feel the same:  the human body is comprised of hundreds of thousands of biochemical reactions.  That the addition of extra genetic material alters those reactions isn’t in question:  what to do about it, well that’s still unknown. 

This study looks at the affects of supplemental antioxidants and folate, but not in the megadoses found in such nutritional therapies as Nutrivene-D.  So I imagine the families who choose the nutritional therapies will not agree with the results, for that reason.

What this study does accomplish is that it provides a closer look at the issue of nutritional supplements and tries to address some of the flaws in previous studies, and I’m grateful to the scientists who undertook this research. 

I guess, as a parent, what I’d really be interested in is a study of the megadoses, because that seems to be a recurring argument in nutritional therapy:  that to be effective, the dosage of the supplements needs to be large.

(I’d also recommend Joan Guthrie Medlen’s terrific book, The Down Syndrome Nutrition Handbook, which is full of healthy eating ideas for the whole family.)

EDITED, and I’ve added the link to the study results provided by the paper’s lead author Jill, thank you!

11 thoughts on “Down syndrome and nutritional supplements

  1. My son is 12 and still will not chew his food even after working with speech and OT’s since he was born. He really needs a nutritional supplement. He swallows soft foods and occasionally whole beans (accidentally on his part). Can anyone suggest a much needed nutritional supplement, liquid preferred.

  2. Hi Jennifer –
    This seems as good a place as any to drop you a note. I just finished reading the pre-release version of your upcoming book. I cried when I read the paragraph you wrote about my book.

    I never intended my book, The Down Syndrome Nutrition Handbook, to be about “TNI.” Rather, I wanted to show how there’s so MUCH more to do outside of the micro-nutrition that folks are worrying about. There’s so much MORE involved with living a healthful life.

    Thank you for seeing that.

    And thank you, I see here, for mentioning the title again! When I finish the “Cooking by Color: Recipes for Independence” volumes one and two, I will dive into the revision of DSNH – thinking I’ll cut it into smaller, more bite-sized readings.

    Thanks again,
    Joan Guthrie Medlen, RD, LD
    or catch my more personal side through my blog at

  3. This was big news in Germany, too. We had this topic very often “on our table”. Can’t wait until your book is out!!!!

    BTW, did you get my e-mail????? 🙂

  4. I agree – I keep procrastinating about taking Hannah to a naturopath (she has a daughter with DS) but as she is a bit far away I clearly lack comitment – or maybe I am satisfied that Han is doing well for now as she is and eating a pretty good mix of foods.

    PS – It was a treat to see your blog linked to the NSW DSA blog last week!

  5. These are both excellent points! I too have the “what-ifs” and am always looking, and learning, and reevaluating for Avery. I don’t want to miss anything! And I don’t want to do anything wrong!

    And it’s so good to think about the ways we know we can support our children’s learning and growth that are clear…through interaction, and love, and emotional and educational supports.

    Thanks for adding these thoughts!

  6. My husband and I read a lot of information on nutritional supplements for babies with Down syndrome, beginning when we first found out that Gabe has Ds. (I was 20 weeks into my pregnancy, so we used the rest of my pregnancy to gain information about Ds.) What bothered us about the so-called studies is that there was never a double-blind study of any great number of children.

    My husband, with a background in chemistry, has a valid point, IMO: Is the extra 21st chromosone expressing itself the same way in all our children with Ds? Of course, it is not, and I agree with you about the all-or-nothing approach not working. Fortunately, Gabe eats a well-rounded diet (despite his penchant for pizza and noodles), but we do give him a children’s chewable multivitamin daily.

    Personally, I take extra vitamins daily (ie. calcium, vitamin E, C, D & B along with a multi-vitamin), and I would encourage Gabriel to do so as an adult. But my reasons are not to make Gabe “smarter”. My reasons are to help ensure general good health.

    IMO, no amount of vitamin supplement will make Gabriel brighter or smarter or quicker — that job belongs to me and my husband. The daily time we invest in reading, communication, discovering the world around us, playing, etc. with Gabe will enhance his awareness and his ability to succeed in life.

  7. We don’t give nutritional supplements to Joe or Emma because their hemoglobin numbers are off the charts and we feel like they get all that they need through daily in-take. Yet, I still worry constantly that I should be giving Joe something. I have thought a lot about ginko biloba but I haven’t bought any. The problem is the “what if…” For example, maybe ginko will increase his memory, what if he had a that to help him? This is a really vexed issue and I think that it is enormously important for the T21 community.

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