Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s) and published for informational purposes only. We recommend that adolescents and their parents follow a doctor's guidance on vitamin supplementation.
There’s debate in the medical community about whether vitamin supplementation is necessary for teens. Teenagers are much more likely to be in good health than older adults, as a function of youth, but that doesn’t mean they can’t theoretically optimize their health with vitamin supplementation.
With how much marketing exists for dietary supplements on channels like TikTok and YouTube, many adolescent consumers are also curious about whether vitamin supplementation could benefit them.
In this article we’ll review some of the vitamins teens may wish to consider talking to their doctor about, and conclude with our opinion on whether vitamins are necessary for teens at all.
When are Vitamins Necessary?
It typically only makes sense to supplement with a vitamin in the context of a deficiency of that vitamin which is identified with lab tests. There are some exceptions like Vitamin D3 and Vitamin C which we’ll discuss later in this article.
Most patients in the developed world get annual blood work at a doctor check-up appointment, and their doctor can recommend supplementation to treat any documented deficiency. As an example, if a patient is found to be deficieint in Vitamin B12 based on results of a blood draw, their doctor may advise a Vitamin B12 supplement or injection to correct the deficiency.
Most vitamins can be obtained from a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and free of processed food, but some patients have absorption or other health issues which prevent proper assimilation of vitamins from food sources.
We would recommend that teenagers get an annual blood draw at their doctor's office to screen for vitamin deficiencies. It's especially important to ensure optimal levels of vitamins during adolescence, because the body is growing.
Some vitamins may be useful to take year-round by teens and we’ll explore these below.
Vitamin D3 is the better-absorbed type of Vitamin D, and this can be a useful vitamin for teens to supplement with if they avoid the sun, or if they live at a high latitude.
Vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sun exposure and is an incredibly important vitamin. It’s required for hundreds of biochemical responses and also for proper hormone function according to medical research.
Teens may not get enough sunlight to optimize Vitamin D levels, especially during the winter, and those living at northern latitudes can’t generate Vitamin D for much of the year even with adequate sun exposure due to the angle of the sun.
The above-linked research review from Harvard Health Publishing finds that those living above the 37 degree latitude are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. This means teens living in cities like New York City, Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis and even as far south as Denver may be at increased risk.
Because Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it can bioaccumulate and is unsafe in very high doses. For this reason, it’s always recommended to get a Vitamin D test at your doctor’s office and work with your doctor to establish a safe supplementation regimen if needed. The risk of Vitamin D toxicity is low, but it makes sense to base supplementation off test results and established medical protocols rather than just purchasing a random supplement.
Vitamin C is another vitamin that teens may wish to consider supplementing with. It’s necessary for proper immune system development and functioning, and can be lacking in a Standard American Diet.
Most processed foods contain little or no Vitamin C, so teens whose diet includes a high percentage of fast foods like pizza or burgers may want to consider supplementing with Vitamin C. Of course the better option would be to simply eat a healthier diet, but if that’s not an option then supplementation is likely a good idea.
Unlike Vitamin D3, Vitamin C is water soluble meaning any excess is urinated out, so there is a lower risk of toxicity from taking too high of a dose over long periods of time. It’s still worth consulting with a doctor before supplementing Vitamin C, especially as a teenager, to ensure a safe daily dosage.
Vitamin C is naturally found in produce like kale and apples, so teens open to improving their diet can easily attain enough Vitamin C just by eating the right foods. One orange alone contains over 50 milligrams (mg) of Vitamin C based on USDA data, or more than half the Daily Recommended Allowance (RDA) depending on gender and age.
Do Teen Boys and Teen Girls Need Different Vitamins?
Many supplement companies market their products in a gendered fashion, which we find to be unscientific. We haven't come across any medical studies suggesting that teenage boys and teenage girls have different vitamin needs. In fact, we would recommend that teenage consumers avoid vitamin companies marketing on the basis of sex or gender, as we consider this to be a red flag of a company that may prioritize marketing over efficacy.
Teenage boys may have slightly higher daily vitamin requirements than teenage girls given that they weigh more on average, but as far as type of vitamins required we haven't come across any medical trials suggesting there's a difference.
Other Supplements for Teens
There are other supplement categories outside of vitamins which may be useful to teens on a case-by-case basis. Many teenagers in the U.S. work out regularly, and whey protein can be a useful and safe food supplement that’s well-studied and can improve strength and lean body mass in combination with weightlifting.
We consider whey to be a healthier alternative than most popular sports nutrition drinks like Gatorade that are loaded with sugar and often marketed to teens. Premier Protein Shake is an example of a sports nutrition drink that we consider unhealthy, and we recently wrote a detailed review explaining why we find this popular sports beverage to be a waste of money and potentially harmful to health.
Melatonin is another extremely safe dietary supplement used to improve sleep. There’s no need to take it as a preventative measure, but it can be a much safer alternative to pharmaceutical sleep medications if approved by a doctor.
Adderall is often prescribed to teenagers even though it has a very questionable long-term safety profile, especially for a developing brain. It is, after all, an amphetamine. There are a number of natural substitutes for Adderall which teenagers can consider purchasing over-the-counter (OTC), but we generally don't recommend use of nootropic compounds in adolescents.