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Is Alternative Medicine Risky for Kids?

Researchers Say Parents Need to Be Aware of Potential Side Effects of Alternative Medicine

Communication About CAM Is Key

John Dorsey, MD, an attending pediatrician at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, urges parents to stay in touch with their child’s pediatrician even if they choose to seek care from an alternative medicine provider.

“There could be hazards to what you are doing,” he says. “Collaboration is essential because people may do this on their own and these therapies should be supervised by a conventional doctor.”

“It is absolutely vital that parents and health care providers communicate with one another about the use of CAM,” says Adam Rindfleisch, MD, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and director of the Academic Integrative Medicine fellowship program there.

“Many parents don't report its use, because they feel either their provider won't be familiar with the forms of treatment they are using, or because they fear criticism,” he says in an email.

But “open communication and trust can go a long way in enhancing the safety of care, be it with CAM approaches, medications, surgery, or any intervention,” he says.

More research is needed, he says. “The body of CAM research is increasing, but very little of this has to do with CAM in children,” he says. “Every treatment -- CAM or otherwise -- can have its dangers in some circumstances.”

“To decide how dangerous it is, we have to ask how dangerous other approaches are as well,” he says. “Medications are not without their side effects, and there is a reason that many parents hesitate when it comes to giving them to children.”

Safe Supplement Use in Kids

Duffy MacKay, ND, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association that represents the supplement industry, urges caution in interpreting the new findings, at least as they pertain to dietary supplement use in kids.

“Many supplements are safe when they are used as directed and under the advice of a professional such as a pediatrician or integrative medicine provider,” he says. In terms of avoiding overdose, “treat all home health care products and cleaning products the same way -- lock ‘em up and keep them up high.”

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