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Are Natural and Alternative Therapies Really Safe for Children?

A recent Associated Press report from London titled, “Alternative Medicines Sometimes Dangerous for Kids” suggests that Alternative Treatments (such as homeopathic medicines) may result in death, in rare cases.

(here’s a link to the article as it appears on the AP site: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/E/EU_MED_KIDS_AND_ALTERNATIVE_MEDICINES?SITE=OHCIN&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT).

This information is certainly enough to catch the attention of many parents who use natural or alternative medicines for their own children and potentially scare some into avoiding what may be a perfectly safe and effective treatment, if used appropriately.  The article put out by the AP fails to mention the many deaths each year caused by appropriately prescribed pharmaceutical medications, not to mention the risks associated with certain commonly used conventional pediatric medications. Here are some other articles that provide another perspective:

An article about the ineffectiveness of cold medicines in children: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/23/health/23confuse.html 

Risks associated with high profile pediatric medications: http://pediatrics.about.com/od/childhoodmedications/a/08_side_effects.htm 

Article about the standards and testing of pediatric drugs used in the United States:  https://www.dcri.org/news-publications/news/2010-news-archives/many-pediatric-drugs-approved-for-use-in-us-were-not-tested-in-the-united-states

Reading further, I was surprised to learn that the deaths attributed to alternative medicines, were not in fact caused by the medicines, but rather, the lack of appropriate medical attention (the article blamed the use of homeopathic remedies for replacing or delaying conventional treatment). Certainly, any parent should use appropriate judgement when treating a sick child. If your child has a high fever, has difficulty breathing, eating, or keeping fluids down, he/she needs to be seen by a trained healthcare professional. Here in Washington State, Naturopathic Doctors are licensed healthcare providers. This means we are trained to recognize when a person needs emergency care, or more aggressive medicines, such as prescription antibiotics. It is important to note that there is often a significant difference in the education of a licensed or licensable Naturopath compared to an unlicensed “Traditional Naturopath”, Homeopath, or other Alternative Health practitioner.

Why use fear to discourage parents from seeking Alternative therapies for their sick children? That is a good question! Fear and guilt are tactics that are often used to sway opinion and can sometimes replace logic and solid evidence in any debate. It is important that decisions about healthcare are made from trustworthy information rather than simply based on fear or guilt. Many supporters of Natural and Alternative Medicines are quick to point out the vast amount of money at stake in healthcare, especially related to pharmaceuticals. Of course it makes sense that some drug companies would have much to lose if parents lost faith in conventional drugs used for children. Medical Doctors and other mainstream healthcare providers are also skeptical of any substance that has not undergone rigorous research and double-blind, placebo controlled studies.

While this scientific approach is not necessarily wrong or at odds with what many licensed Naturopaths do, there are certainly key philosophical differences in how a patient’s health is addressed. Most conventional medicine tends to be problem or symptom oriented, with treatments prescribed to cure certain diseases or to allay certain symtpoms. Naturopathic Doctors will often approach health complaints by identifying and treating the underlying cause of the problem and addressing the whole person (not just the symptoms) and helping to stimulate each person’s innate healing abilities through a variety of modalities (i.e. homeopathy, nutrition, hydrotherapy, herbs, etc.). In Washington State, Naturopathic Doctors are also able to prescribe many conventional medications, such as antibiotics, when necessary as well as refer appropriately when a patient needs care by a specialist or in an Emergency or Hospital setting. Parents should certainly not be afraid to use Natural or Alternative remedies that have been appropriately prescribed by a licensed Naturopath. They should also never be afraid to ask questions, like “how will I know if the treatment is working?” and “how soon can I expect to see results?” A doctor who is not willing to answer these questions or make you feel comfortable with the treatment plan is probably not the right doctor for you child to see.

If you are looking for a licensed Naturopathic Doctor in Washington, visit the website:  www.findanaturaldoctor.com

If you are looking for a licensed Naturoapthic Doctor elsewhere in the USA, visit the website: www.naturopathic.org

In Canada, visit: www.cand.ca

About the Author: Dr. Bowker is a Naturopathic Physician and owner of Snohomish Valley Holistic Medicine. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. Bowker serves as a Board member for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She has also been a guest speaker for community organizations and instructor of several community health classes. For more information, please visit her primary website: www.snovalleyholistic.com

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