Today, more children than ever are being treated with complementary and alternative therapies. Recent studies indicate that about 30 percent of healthy children and up to 50 percent of children with chronic disease are using some kind of alternative therapy.
“There is a huge place for complementary and alternative medicine in pediatrics,” says Dolores Mendelow, M.D., clinical assistant professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases at the University of Michigan Medical School.
Complementary and alternative therapies are becoming a more prevalent treatment for children. If individuals follow the directions of their physicians, these treatments are a safe and effective way to get and stay healthy, Mendelow says.
While certain types of complementary and alternative therapies are safe for children, there are many therapies that could potentially be dangerous. Mendelow notes that parents should always consult their children’s pediatrician before beginning any new treatment.
Alternative therapies can be successful against many illnesses – including the common cold or skin rashes – when over-the-counter medications do not have immediate success. For instance, honey can be used for coughs related to the common cold – just not for children less than one year of age.
“In terms of complementary medicine, we’re using acupuncture, dietary supplementation and herbal or botanical therapies,” Mendelow says.
Some types of therapies that may be beneficial for children:
- Yoga. Experts suggest that pediatric patients participate in yoga as a form of therapy. Yoga, when combined with medicines prescribed by a physician, can be used to help asthmatic patients learn to practice and use deep breathing and remain calm when faced with shortness of breath. Yoga also helps reduce stress in teens and adolescents.
- Tai chi. Research shows teenagers encounter a lot of stress, which puts them at risk for depression. Mind and body therapies, such as tai chi, help reduce the risk of depression and anxiety. Tai chi and yoga help to decrease blood pressure and sympathetic activity in children. This allows for a sense of relaxation and calmness.
- Probiotics. These live bacteria, similar to those found in the human stomach, can be found in dietary supplements or in food, such as yogurt. Used to treat antibiotic-associated diarrhea, controlled studies have shown probiotics are safe for children. Using probiotics can reduce diarrhea by one to two days, allowing children to go back to school or day care sooner. Probiotics are not recommended for children on any immunosuppressive drugs or those who are immuno-compromised. Always consult a doctor first.
While there is strong evidence that these complementary and alternative therapies are safe for children, Mendelow advises parents that other complementary and alternative medicines can have serious consequences for children and adolescents.
Some types of therapies that may be harmful to children include:
- Ma Haung. Ma Haung, a popular Chinese medicine used to control asthma, is an ephedra compound, a stimulant often used to boost athletic performance. Using this type of boosting agent in a child can lead to heart palpitations and other cardiac-related events, all extremely dangerous for a child.
- Creatine. Creatine is another supplement that should not be used in a child’s diet. “Creatine is used for a lot of body building and we know that it can have adverse side effects for kidneys,” says Mendelow.
- Other supplements. Children that are on anti-coagulants should avoid certain complementary and alternative therapies, including ginkgo biloba or high-dose fish oil. Anti-coagulants increase the bleeding time as do these two supplements, so that children are more prone to bleeding. Before taking any supplement, always check with your physician if you’re on other prescription medication to make sure it’s safe.
- Chiropractics. Mendelow advises against high-speed spinal manipulation. “The children’s spines are probably not fully developed until they’re about 18 to 20 years old and you can actually do more harm than good,” Mendelow says.