Your mother or grandmother may have passed down an old family secret that’s sure to cure a headache, pimple or even a common cold. But be careful. Some herbal remedies and old family cures might seem healthy, but they could be dangerous – and sometimes even deadly – to your children.

The traditional medicines and treatments used by myself and other Cook Children’s pediatricians are generally known to be safe and effective, supported by extensive research and controlled clinical trials.  Alternative medicine does not always have the same safeguards or results. Just take a look at the name itself. Alternative medicine involves using practices and products alternative to traditional medicine, and can sometimes lead to serious problems. Plus, there is inadequate safety information for many of these treatments.

My best recommendation for families who want to use complimentary medicine (therapies used in conjunction with traditional medical care) is to talk with your child’s pediatrician first.  We can walk you through what you should and maybe shouldn’t give to your child. 

The vitamins and supplements purchased at a health store, for example, aren’t always regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  It’s very important to speak to your pediatrician about the safety of these medicines before giving them to your child.  Vitamin C, for example, is an important part of a healthy diet and some studies show it may even decrease the duration of the common cold.  If taken in excess, however, Vitamins including Vitamin C can have toxic and harmful side effects.

Certain herbs, diets and medical techniques have been used for centuries, but they aren’t always backed by medical evidence that proves them to be safe and effective. For example, star anise – a spice that has been used for centuries as a method for calming infants with colic – isn’t considered safe by most pediatricians because a cross contamination between safe and unsafe varieties of the same spice can lead to neurological problems.  Garlic and St. John’s wort – two other alternative remedies – can alter a child’s metabolism and cause traditional medications to become too potent or not effective enough. 

As a parent, you want to do what’s safe and effective for your child.  Your pediatrician is the best resource for letting you know when it’s appropriate to provide traditional medical care and when it’s okay to look to complementary medicine sources.  Communication is so important to the care of your child. You know your child better than anyone, and as a pediatrician, I want to hear from you. When you communicate with me openly about vitamins and herbs you are giving your child, I can offer my perspective and recommendations and then monitor for any side effects or drug/food interactions.

Dr. Wineriter is a pediatrician at 4300 Heritage Trace Parkway in Keller. She earned her medical degree and completed her residency in pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas. She is board certified, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the Texas Medical Association.

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