Dr. Gellner: With essential oils, mindfulness, and yoga in the news, it seems complementary and alternative medicine is everywhere. But are they really good for your child? I’m Dr. Cindy Gellner and today we’ll be talking about Complementary and Alternative Medicine on The Scope.
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Dr. Gellner: So you hear a lot about essential oils and teas, massages and all the other ways to help your child get through a cold, an upset stomach or sleep. But what do we really know about them and are they safe for children? So, while there is no strict definition of complementary and alternative medicine, it generally includes all healing practices that are not part of mainstream medicine. It means any practice that is not widely taught in medical schools or frequently used by physicians or in hospitals.
There is actually a difference between complementary and alternative medications. Alternative medicine is used instead of conventional medical treatment. Complementary medicine is used in addition to conventional medical treatments. Complementary and alternative medicine, also known as CAM in the United States, is constantly evolving as different types of care become more accepted by doctors and more demanded by patients. Some of us are more open to complementary and alternative medicine than others, which is where you need to determine whether your pediatrician is comfortable with them or not. Many of us are.
The National Institutes of Health classify two general areas of complementary and alternative care, there are natural products such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, probiotics, other dietary supplements, and essential oils. Then there are mind and body practices, which include acupuncture, massage, spinal manipulation, yoga, and meditation. When talking about alternative medicine, alternative medical systems include traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic found in the Middle East, homeopathic medicine, and naturopathic medicine.
The alternative medical system incorporates many of these practices into their treatments. Some complementary and alternative medicine practices are backed by scientific research, while others have yet to be fully researched. Sometimes experts have scientific evidence that a practice like acupuncture works, but they don’t clearly understand why it works.
So how does complementary and alternative medicine differ from traditional medicine? Complementary and alternative medicine is often distinguished by its holistic methods, meaning that the doctor or practitioner treats the whole person and not just the condition or disease. Despite the growth of the field, complementary health approaches are generally not covered by medical insurance.
So what are the risks associated with the use of complementary and alternative medicine? The lack of scientific studies means that there are some potential problems associated with CAM therapies that can be difficult to identify. Moreover, almost all of the studies that have been done involve adults as test subjects. There is very little research on the effects of CAMs on children.
Some therapies, especially herbal remedies and other dietary supplements, may actually pose significant risks to children. Unlike prescription and over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements are not strictly regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration. They are not subjected to any extensive testing before being marketed and they do not have to meet quality standards. This means that when you buy an herbal supplement like echinacea or ginseng, you might not know what you’re getting. The amount of the ingredient may be more or less than indicated on the label. The herb may not be the correct plant species, or the supplement may be contaminated with other herbs, pesticides, metals, or other ingredients, including prescription drugs.
Plus, natural doesn’t always mean safe, and many parents don’t realize that some supplements can actually cause health issues for their children. Some herbal supplements can cause high blood pressure, liver damage, or allergic reactions. For example, echinacea can cause allergic reactions in children with seasonal allergies, and eucalyptus can be fatal if ingested.
Parents can also give their kids a lot more weed than recommended, thinking that because it’s natural, a higher dose won’t hurt. There is a saying in toxicology that the dose makes the poison. It doesn’t matter what substance you are talking about, even water, too much of it is not good. Many plants contain powerful chemicals and approximately 25% of all prescription drugs are derived from plants. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re safe on their own.
The choice of a practitioner can pose another problem. Many physicians may not know much about Complementary and Alternative Medicine and others may choose to focus only on the medical treatments taught in their training and may not be open to a family using Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Perhaps the greatest risk, however, is people delaying or stopping medical treatment in favor of alternative therapy. Relying completely on alternative therapies for any serious, chronic or acute condition can jeopardize a child’s health.
Can complementary and alternative medicine really help? Absolutely. It’s not uncommon for a parent to turn to a cup of chamomile or ginger tea to soothe the symptoms of a flu or upset stomach in their child. Anxious children can learn to relax using meditation or yoga, and psychiatrists often recommend that children learn this type of biofeedback. Massage has been shown to help premature babies grow and the scent of lavender is good for helping your child fall asleep.
So if you want to try complementary and alternative medications for your child, talk to your pediatrician to make sure they’re safe and won’t conflict with the traditional care your child is already receiving. Always make sure that if you are using any type of complementary or alternative medication, be sure to mention it to your child’s pediatrician. We absolutely want to know everything your child is taking, even vitamins, because we want to make sure that if we have to give your child medicine for anything, it won’t interact with anything other than you give your child a supplement. .
By coordinating complementary approaches with traditional care, you don’t have to choose between them, rather you can get the best of both worlds.
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