Are Herbal Supplements OK for Kids?
Some Might Help, but Questions Remain
WebMD News Archive
Mar. 7, 2005 -- Thinking of treating your child's illness with herbal
supplements? You may want to do some fact-checking and talk it over with a
Herbal supplements are popular, but some may work better in kids than
others, a new study shows. Echinacea, evening primrose oil, Andrographis
paniculata, ivy leaf, and valerian yielded some interesting results. But garlic
and cranberry didn't seem helpful.
Is It Safe? Does It Work?
The researchers aren't recommending any herbal products, and they're not
thrilled with results seen in the few studies of herbal medicine in kids.
Still, they didn't want to look the other way. An estimated 20%-40% of kids
have been exposed to herbal products for everything from anxiety to insomnia to
colds, they estimate.
"As more and more children are exposed to botanical products, it is
important that the safety and efficacy of these treatments be well established
in controlled clinical trials," write the researchers.
Does Your Doctor Know?
The FDA doesn't regulate over-the-counter supplements. That means the
government doesn't check what's in each bottle, how well the products work, or
even if they're safe.
If you're going to use an herbal supplement -- or give it to a child --
always let your doctor know. That way, they can watch out for potential side
effects or dangerous interactions between conventional and herbal
Sifting Through the Evidence
The researchers pored over herbal medicine studies done from 1960-2003.
Here's what they found:
- Andrographis paniculata, a traditional Chinese and Indian
medicine, may help prevent and treat kids' upper respiratory infections, such
as the common cold. In the small study, 107 kids took a placebo or 200 mg of
the herbal extract daily. After three months, the extract users had
significantly fewer colds.
- Cranberry cocktail juice didn't help avoid urinary tract
infections in children at risk for bladder infections.
- Echinacea may cut the length and severity of a child's
cold. In that study, kids took 2.5 to 5 milliliters of echinacea two or three
times daily, depending on their age, with few side effects.
But that study didn't compare echinacea with a placebo. Another larger study
comparing the herbal extract to a placebo showed that echinacea didn't help
kids' upper respiratory symptoms. However, its use was associated with an
increased risk of rash compared with a placebo.
- Evening primrose oil may have some benefit for kids with
dermatitis, a skin disorder. Studies comparing its use with a placebo show that
the treatment may have some benefit in children.
- Garlic was no help as a cholesterol-lowering agent in
children with a genetic predisposition to abnormally high bad 'LDL'
cholesterol. In a small study of 30 kids with a family history of high
cholesterol, garlic had no effect on blood cholesterol or other blood markers
for heart disease risk.
- Ivy leaf extracts are used to treat upper respiratory
infections and cough. In one study, it improved breathing in 24 kids with
asthma who took the product for three to four weeks. In another study, cough
tablets containing 65 milligrams of dried ivy leaf cut kids' coughs by
- Valerian root extract may help sleep problems in children
with intellectual deficits. That study had only five participants, all of whom
were boys aged 7-14 years with intellectual deficits. The children had varying
degrees of mental deficits, along with conditions such as epilepsy or ADHD, and
different sleep problems. They took one dose of valerian or a placebo nightly
for two weeks. The valerian takers got to sleep quicker and slept better and
longer than those taking the placebo.