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Parents Should Be Aware of Potential Dangers of Alternative Medicine


A growing number of parents are considering complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to treat their children’s illnesses for a variety of reasons. While some therapies may be healing and therapeutic, parents should remain aware of potential dangers of treatments, especially when they are substituted for conventional medicine.

Coordinate Complementary Medicine with Traditional Therapies for Best Outcomes

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, CAM is defined as a diverse group of medical and healthcare practices that are generally not considered part of conventional or “Western” medicine. Practitioners often focus on treating the whole person and promote self-care and self-healing. CAM includes broad categories of therapies, such as natural products (ie: herbs, dietary supplements), mind-body medicine (meditation, yoga), and manipulative practices (spinal manipulation and massage).

While complementary medicine often accompanies Western medicine practices, alternative therapies are used in place of medical treatments.

According to a study by the Australian Pediatric Surveillance Unit conducted between 2001 and 2003, adults are mislead to believe that CAM treatments are better for children because they are “all natural” and therefore less harmful. However, during the same timeframe, four deaths were reported in association with CAM practices because they were used in place of conventional treatments.

Read: Alternative Health Practices Gain Popularity with US Children

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The researchers, who published the study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood note that one death occurred in an 8-month-old child who was initially admitted with severe malnutrition and septic shock following naturopathic treatment with a rice milk diet to relieve constipation. A second case involved a 10-month-old child who was being treated with homeopathy and a restricted diet for chronic eczema.

There were also 46 instances of “negative outcomes” with seventy-seven percent experiencing a worsening of symptoms after starting a CAM therapy. Two-thirds of the cases were rated as severe, or life-threatening with symptoms that included seizures, infections, stunted growth, allergic reactions and malnutrition.

Read: Families Often Use Complementary Medicine for Children with Cancer

Forty-four percent of the parents of the children who had been harmed were warned by a pediatrician not to continue.

Dr. Steven Dowshen of KidsHealth.com suggests talking with your child’s pediatrician before starting any complementary or alternative therapy to ensure that it is not dangerous and will not conflict with the traditional care your child is receiving.

“By coordinating alternative and traditional care,” he says, “you don’t have to choose between them. Instead, you can get the best of both.”

Source Reference:
"Adverse events associated with the use of complementary and alternative medicine in children"
Alissa Lim, Noel Cranswick, Michael South
Arch Dis Child doi:10.1136/adc.2010.183152