Which natural remedies are safe for children?
Expert advice on which natural treatments are, or are not, okay for kids, and which ones really work
Many parents are curious about homeopathic or natural remedies, but are all-the-rage natural products like oregano oil safe for children? Or even effective for that matter? To help you weigh the risks and benefits, we’ve consulted two experts. Sunita Vohra is a paediatrician and the director of the Complementary and Alternative Research and Education program at the University of Alberta, which aims to generate research on the safety and effectiveness of alternative therapies. And Sushma Shah is a naturopathic doctor who specializes in children’s health in Toronto.
For centuries, herbalists have used oregano for its alleged germ-killing properties. Shah says oregano oil can help shorten a cold or flu as well as treat thrush and other infections. Given that oregano oil can irritate the stomach lining, she doesn’t recommend it for the long term, nor for children under four.
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As to the scientific proof behind the herbal hype, Vohra notes that its widespread use alone suggests there’s something to oregano, but randomized, controlled trials have yet to confirm or deny the plant’s medicinal properties. Vohra says the oil is not likely to have adverse affects in very small quantities, but she recommends that parents consult a naturopathic or medical doctor before offering it to their child. Ultimately, says Vohra, “the safest way to have oregano is as a dried herb in foods.”
Clinical trials have found probiotic supplements can be more effective than other pharmaceutical options in treating both infection- and antibiotic-caused diarrhea, says Vohra. Studies also suggest probiotics ― a combination of various types of “good bacteria” ― ward off eczema as well as allergic reactions. A 2010 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology followed 415 pregnant mothers and randomly assigned half to drink probiotic milk from week 36 of their pregnancy, while the placebo group drank regular milk. In their first two years, infants who had been exposed to probiotics in the womb had an incidence rate of eczema that was 40 percent less than the placebo infants.
Probiotics are available in pill form, as well as in fermented foods like yogurt, miso and sauerkraut and probiotic-supplemented cereals and juices. Probiotics are safe for healthy people, and early evidence suggests they’re safe for healthy infants too, but probiotics can be dangerous for anyone who’s immunocompromised. “For those who are seriously unwell, we’re cautious about giving them any live agent,” says Vohra. She recommends children consume probiotic-rich foods like yogurt as part of a balanced diet, and that probiotic supplements only be given under a doctor’s discretion.
This ancient herb ― hailing from the same family as the dandelion and marigold ― is said to pack a plethora of health benefits, from boosting the immune system, to fighting respiratory infections and healing the skin. Studies measuring the effectiveness of echinacea are contradictory, however, with some saying it shortens colds and flus and others reporting no benefit. Vohra believes the contradictory results have to do with the fact that there are multiple species of echinacea and each type may work slightly differently than others.
Shah often recommends echinacea as a remedy for surface wounds. “You can make a tea by diluting echinacea root in hot water and you can apply a couple tablespoons of the tea to the wound,” says Shah. For colds and flus, Shah recommends children drink the tea rather than taking echinacea in a concentrated form. However, she’s cautious about giving echinacea to those under six and doesn’t recommend it to children under two, due to potential allergic reactions and the fact effects of echinacea hasn’t been studied on this age group.
Recent science suggests omega-3 fatty acids promote brain health, warding off Alzheimer’s and depression in adults and potentially reducing Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disorder behaviours in children. But Vohra says that only some children with ADHD show improvement when taking fish oil supplements. “We aren’t able to predict to families which child will get better and which aren’t,” explains Vohra. Again, those who want to try out fish oil supplementation for their children should speak to a doctor; fish oil has anti-coagulant effects that could spell trouble for those with blood disorders.
Information is current as of the original date of publication.
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