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Alternative Health Care for Children (September 2008)

At least 20 percent of regularly healthy children in the United States benefit from alternative health care according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can cover anything from chamomile tea to yoga, and it has been practiced on children to help cure a variety of conditions.

According to the National Institutes of Health (, CAM refers to any product or treatment that is not part of standardized or mainstream health care. While at least 20 percent of healthy children are treated using CAM, as many as 50 percent of children suffering from chronic illness use CAM in conjunction with standard healthcare methods.

Research First

The first step in deciding how to treat your child is to collect information from a variety of sources. Search the Internet for information about the practice or medicine. Find the results of studies that have been conducted with children. In addition to your own investigation, consult with your pediatrician, general practitioner, and pharmacist.

What's right for my child?

The NIH classifies four separate areas of CAM.

  • Biologically based practices include vitamins, herbs, foods, teas, and dietary supplements. Many parents give their children daily vitamins or herbal teas to help soothe a sore throat without even realizing that they're utilizing CAM.

  • Energy medicine is based on a scientifically unproven theory that energy fields surround and penetrate the body. Practices like therapeutic touch and bioelectromagnetics fall into this category.

  • Manipulative and body-based practices include commonly used therapies such as chiropractics and massage therapy.

  • Mind-body medicine may include prayer, meditation, and music therapy.

With such a widespread catalog of practices, your child might already be receiving complementary medicine. Research about CAM and children has been limited, however. While vitamins have traditionally been recommended for children, other methods and therapies have not been studied.

Natural Doesn't Mean Safe

It's important to remember that not all complementary or alternative medicine techniques are safe for children. Children are not fully developed, and some products respond differently in children. When using any product or method, parents must find out the correct dosage and instructions for children. Here are a few things to remember.

  • The United States Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate CAM, and it's difficult to know exactly what you might be getting in a capsule or package.

  • Some supplements, such as chaparral, comfrey, ephedrine, and germander, have been linked with harmful - and occasionally fatal - results.

  • Parents must ensure that any CAM does not interfere with, delay, or replace proven medical methods to help resolve a serious disease or illness.



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