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Supplement Use Common Among Kids, Teens

St. John's Wort, Tea Tree Oil

St. John's Wort, the world's most popular herbal remedy widely used for depression, has been shown to lower the effectiveness of many drugs, including birth control pills and more recently it was shown to compromise the effects of cancer fighting drugs. Kemper says it is not likely that teens taking the pill would know about this possible interaction.

She also sited tea tree oil, used topically for acne, ringworm, and other skin problems, as a little known danger to toddlers. Ingestion of as little as a teaspoon of the oil has been linked to serious toxicity, including coma.

Echinacea, commonly used to treat colds and upper respiratory infections, is among the herbals most often given to children. Although it is considered generally safe, a recent study showed that kids who took it were more likely to develop rashes.

"The bottom line is that parents should not equate 'natural' with 'safe,'" Kemper says. "Parents should seek expert guidance when considering the use of complementary and alternative medicines, and they should inform their child's pediatrician of any herb or dietary supplement use."

Safety Uncertain

Augusta, Ga. neonatalogist Jatinder Bhatia, MD, says it is no surprise that parents of sick children turn to alternative medicines, even when there is little or no scientific proof that they work. Bhatia is a nutrition spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

He cites as an example of the move to give babies with Down's syndrome mega-doses of multivitamins.

But he says there are almost no data on the safety of herbal supplement use among children and adolescents, and for this reason parents should be especially careful about giving them to their kids.

"If a parent is going to give these products to a child, they need to make sure that the child's pediatrician knows about it," he says.

"Unlike drugs, herbal products have not been scrutinized by the FDA, so it is truly a case of buyer beware. Some herbs and plants may have beneficial effects as well as expected toxicities, similar to drugs. It is critical that parents research what is known about the safety and effectiveness of a supplement when considering giving it to their children", says Kemper.

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