Alternative and Complementary Medicine: Good for Kids?

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alternative medicine for kids
Should complementary and alternative medicine be a treatment option for children?

Complementary and alternative medicine could generally be any healing products, practices, or systems that are not frequently used by licensed doctors or hospitals especially in the Western countries.

Sometimes, when conventional medicine doesn’t work, or when they are beyond someone’s finances, or when they have strict philosophical orientations, parents resort to complementary and alternative medicine instead.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) performed a survey with children ages 17 and under. Among them, 12 percent have used complementary and alternative medicine in the last year. These are the children who often experience colds, back and neck pains, and insomnia. Some of them are diagnosed with ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety. Study also showed that, more often than not, these are kids whose parents use complementary and alternative medicine as well.

The type of complementary and alternative medicine can be categorized into two: (1) natural products and (2) mind and body practices. Natural products include herbs and dietary supplements like vitamins and minerals. Mind and body practices include meditation, massage therapies, yoga, diet, relaxation and breathing techniques.

Although complementary and alternative medicine have proven benefits, like everything else, it also has limits. For example, complementary and alternative medicine, no matter how natural or holistic, may not be safe for kids. New York-based acupuncturist and herbalist Tim Aitken says, “Kids are not mini-adults. In pediatric medicine, there are many considerations that are unique to treating children.”

  • They have limited side effects, but there is still a lack of scientific study on children which may mean that a clear look at the efficacy may be hard to identify.
  • Unlike adults, children may not have fully developed immune and central nervous systems and may react to the complementary and alternative medicine differently.
  • Some of the complementary and alternative medicine may interfere with the prescribed over-the-counter medications.

More than researching about the complementary and alternative medicine for children, parents should also need to be up-front with their pediatricians about the benefits and risks of the treatment. If they are trying alternative practices on their own, adults should also seek advice from traditional medical doctors.

Why traditional medical doctors? This is mainly because they are licensed. That is not usually the case with complementary and alternative medicine practitioners (except for some specialists like acupuncturists). If in case the adult decides to go for an alternative medicine practitioner, NCCAM recommends that the adult seeks for a referral from a health care provider, do research, and meet with the practitioner to inquire about his/her training and experience beforehand.

Whether a traditional medical doctor or a complementary and alternative medicine practitioner, the adult should look for a pediatrician who will take responsibility to advise and counsel adults and their kids about relevant, effective, safe, and age-appropriate medical treatments and systems. It is also advisable that the pediatrician or practitioner is updated with new discoveries or studies, at the same time, is willing to learn himself/herself.

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