It occurred to me this morning that someone out there might benefit from hearing the kinds of things I’ve gathered and learned over the years, in my quest to make supplements palatable and manageable for my son with autism who is now 17 years old.
I know a number of adults who have strong preferences and need to change the forms of their supplements to be able to take them, too, so I thought these techniques might come in handy for many ages and stages.
I have quite a little pantry full of tricks at this point. My guy took supplements in only liquid form from age 3 to 7, then started swallowing capsules as well. So I know kind of a lot about how to make liquids and pills work.
Please understand that I always prefer to get all supplements into my son in liquid form for super absorption, but this is often not possible. My son has a strong preference for taking capsules, so other than things I can get in liquid-caps or softgels, most things he takes are in dry capsules.
Tips and Techniques
In our very early days, I used to put supplement powder in his peanut butter sandwiches (this was before BrainChild liquids!). I stopped hiding supplements in food a long time ago (14 years, actually!), when it became clear to me that my son was wise to that plan.
When he was little, I’d take our supplement powder and add it to fruit syrup and a little water, shake them up and keep them in the fridge. To give, we’d shake up the mixture very well, then use an oral syringe to dose them. You can give a lot of things this way, once your child gets used to it. I didn’t like using syrup with sugar in it, but we did get the supplements in. It’s possible to make almost anything taste ok if you keep experimenting. This dosing method worked very well for us for years, and I could hide almost anything in the mix without him noticing.
If the child wants more control, let them drink their liquid supplements out of a Dixie Cup. If they want choice, find two different kinds of cups, and let them choose. Sometimes they come with cute cartoon pictures on them. Listen to the child’s preferences and work always toward independence. Experiment with sweeteners and flavors and make liquids taste good. But always be no-nonsense about it. The supps must go in. Here’s the progression my son made from age 5 to 17:
- When my son was 5, we switched to BrainChild – we were one of the first customers! Even easier, no more mixing powders, and no sugar syrups needed. I’d mix the vitamins and minerals together, and squirt them into his mouth, the same as before.
- At age 7, my son no longer wanted his supplements from an oral syringe, so I put them in a small paper cup and he drank them. He also learned to take capsules at this age, and swallowed his capsules at the same time.
- At age 11, I used to put his supplement cups – liquids and capsules – on a small paper plate with his name on it on the counter or dining table, and he would know they’re for him, and take them more independently than before.
- At age 16, I put a printed dosage calendar on his fridge and loaded everything into a pill organizer. He took his supplements on his own, and crossed off each dose as he did.
- At age 17, my son manages his own supplements, including loading up the organizer. We keep a close eye to make sure he keeps up on it.
Travelling with Liquids
When you travel with liquid supplements, mix them up ahead of time, and take in a bottle inside a small thermal lunchbox on ice. Don’t forget a measuring cup and Dixie cups or an oral syringe for dosing – these store easily inside the lunchbox, in a ziplock bag. Put them in the fridge or ice bucket in your hotel room when you arrive.
Fun With Capsules
My son likes taking smooth capsules, but the texture or flavor of many pills bother him. Many of the supplements he took over the years other than BrainChild only came in dry form, so I had to learn a lot about making capsules. He loves the liquid-caps we make at BrainChild, and still takes these today.
Here are some of the capsule-making tricks I learned in getting him to take so many things over the years. These are mostly applicable to dry ingredients, rather than liquids:
1 – To turn most kinds of pills into capsules, you can split the pills and put the halves into in an empty capsule.
2 – To make large pills into capsules, grind them to powder, then make capsules. Make sure you write down how many pills make how many capsules, and calculate the dosage per capsule from this.
Do not do the above techniques with enterically coated pills, and if it’s a prescription, ask your doctor first.
3 – If lower-dose capsules are desired, you can add rice flour or other inert ingredient that your child tolerates as a “filler”, to take up the extra space, and give you a reliable dose per capsule. Each “00” capsule holds 1/4 tsp of powder, for your calculations of how much filler you may need. So for example, if the dose I want to give means capsules that are only 1/2 full, I’d calculate
1/2 x 1/4 tsp x the number of capsules I want to make = how much of the nutrient I’ll need
And then calculate how much rice flour to put in the same way. Mix the nutrient and rice flour really well, so the nutrient is evenly distributed, then put the mixture in your capsule maker and make capsules.
4 – You can get fresh garlic, oil of oregano, herbal tinctures or other nasty tasting things into a kid by putting them in an empty capsule and then having them take it that instant, before it melts. Veggie caps melt slower than gelatin (gelatin is also made of icky bovine stuff, so use veggie!)
5 – Money-saving tip: You can buy some individual nutrients in powdered form for a lot less than they cost in capsule form, then make your own capsules. Be careful about the quality of what you are buying. Beyond a century is one place I’ve used to buy good quality bulk nutrient powders.
6 – If you have more than one type of capsule that looks identical, you can use a toothpick and food coloring to put a colored dot on the end of one of them, so you can tell the difference (like for example if you fill up pill organizers and need to know which is which). Food coloring isn’t a great thing for our sensitive kids, of course. You could also mix a touch of paprika or turmeric or other colored spice with the powder when making one of them, to make it look slightly different than the others (assuming they tolerate the spice ok).
7 – Pill organizers come in very handy. Usually we use the 7 day ones, and just put in alternating AM and PM doses, with compartments marked with masking tape. I also have bigger ones around, quite a collection. Back in our Yasko days, I was giving many capsules, 4 times a day. I used this awesome Craft Mates craft organizer that came with it’s own zipper case to keep all our capsules straight. Be sure to get yourself some good organizers, to make sure you don’t get confused about what you’ve made and which is which.
8 – Write everything down in detail. I used to keep lots of logs and journals. Remember that you could really mess up their body if you make a mistake with this stuff.
Just a few of the many situations I’ve used my capsule making skills for:
- Make large or sharp-cornered pills into smooth, easy to swallow capsules
- Make bad-tasting pills into neutral tasting capsules
- Combine several smaller pieces of pills into one capsule
- Give children (or elders, or picky adults…) nasty-tasting tinctures and other liquids and fresh garlic, as above
- Make fewer things to take by making larger-dose capsules out of ground-up smaller-dose pills or powders
- Give green food supplements, to help him get some veggies (he doesn’t eat any). You can’t get a large quantity in this way, but at least there’s something green going in!
Useful Tools and Supplies
Here is my ‘inventory’ of stuff I use for this purpose:
- Dixie cups, 3 oz and 5 oz size – 3 oz for pills, 5 oz for liquids
- “00” size Cap-m-Quik capsule maker and tamper (makes up to 50 capsules, but you can make as few as 5 at a time – just tape a 3×5 card over the holes you don’t use.
- “0/1” size Cap-m-Quik and tamper – I picked this up when my youngest daughter couldn’t swallow the “00” capsules yet.
- 3×5 cards – used for smoothing powder in capsule maker, also for blocking off part of capsule maker to make just a few at a time.
- Brand-new pencil – I use the eraser end to tamp down capsules when making just a few.
- Small size paper plates (used to hold empty caps or extra powder while making capsules)
- Pill splitter from the drugstore
- 2″ mortar and pestle, for crushing just one or two pills if needed
- Old coffee grinder, completely cleaned out for grinding pills into powder.
- Veggie capsules (I buy a big bag mail order at a time at Wonderlabs – much cheaper than small bags at the health food store)
- Various juices and fruit syrups – used to flavor liquid mixtures
- Sweetleaf Liquid Stevia – used to sweeten liquid mixtures
- Oral syringes, used to give liquid supplements to little guys – you can get these from BrainChild here.
- Masking tape and sharpie marker, to label bottles with capsules in them (need to write down how many mg in each cap when you put powder into them yourself); also used for taping 3×5 card onto capsule maker to block off part of it.
- Tiny plastic funnels, from Bed, Bath and Beyond, for pouring stuff into capsules or tiny bottles
- Measuring spoons
- One-ounce shot glass measuring cup, from Bed, Bath and Beyond, for measuring liquids
- Clean glass dropper bottles – can dissolve pills in distilled water, to measure tiny doses; can also use the droppers to measure things by drops.
- Tiny whisk, for mixing teensy amounts of liquids.
- Coffee frother, battery powered, for mixing liquids in a drinking glass.
- Small disposable covered containers, like you get salad dressing or salsa in, for taking liquid supplement doses with you in the car, to restaurants, etc. Can buy big packs of these at Costco type stores. Make sure you tape them securely shut, so you don’t have a spill! Sometimes I have used sippy cups or tiny Tupperware to carry doses when we were going somewhere for dinner, etc.
- Extra glass bottles from supplements we’ve used up, so I have them to store new capsules I make up.
Hope this helps some of you just starting out on this quest. Feel free to post your own tricks!
Filed under: Biomedical