September 14, 2017
1 min read

AAP urges discussion about alternative therapies, supplement use in children

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With approximately 12% of all U.S. children receiving some form of complementary therapy – including fish oil, probiotics and acupuncture – the AAP has called for expanded medical education on integrative medicine, as well as more reliable safety standards for complementary therapies that employ potentially toxic ‘natural’ supplements.

“Some natural products have therapeutic qualities but also potentially harmful effects. Certain herbal products may expose children to heavy metals such as lead, mercury or arsenic,” Hilary McClafferty, MD, FAAP, from the department of medicine in the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, said in a press release. “Parents may assume these products are harmless because they come from plants or food, but natural does not always mean safe.”

One common conventional therapy cited by the researchers includes the use of fish oil. Docosahexaenoic acid, a component found in the supplement, has been beneficial in supporting healthy pregnancies and the formation of the fetal brain, as well as its ability to improve attention deficit/hyperactivity symptoms in certain children. Additional therapies include probiotic use to prevent dermatitis and reduce the duration of infectious diarrhea, as well as acupuncture to relieve migraine headaches.

However, many therapies are not evidence based and could possibly be life-threatening. The researchers note that no regulations are in place that require premarket testing for potency and purity of these herbal products and dietary supplements because they are classified under food, not medication.

One herbal supplement that could be dangerous for certain populations includes St. John’s wort, which is used to treat mild to moderate depression. This supplement can interact with thousands of medications, according to the researchers, and may cause adverse reactions.

McClafferty and colleagues suggest that pediatricians:

  • Ask patients and families about therapies used;
  • Respect different perspectives, values and cultural beliefs in discussion; and
  • Keep open, ongoing communication focused on the patient’s well-being.

“Many complementary therapies have significant potential to widen the scope of treatments available for children, especially for those dealing with pain or chronic conditions that are difficult to manage,” McClafferty said in the release. “The key is open and ongoing discussion about promising benefits, weighed against possible risks, of any treatment used.” – by Katherine Bortz

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.