Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Natural Products and Children: A Cautionary Tale
As parents, we want to do everything we can to keep our children healthy and improve their well-being. We try to provide healthy meals and ensure they get enough sleep and plenty of exercise. We want the best for them. But when it comes to natural products such as herbs, botanicals, and homeopathic remedies—products that are increasingly marketed for use by children, often claiming to enhance athletic performance, promote weight loss, or improve energy levels—I urge you to use caution and to be an informed consumer.
Our research tells us that many children use herbs, botanicals, and other dietary supplements. For instance, according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, nearly 12 percent of American children use some form of a complementary health approach, and natural products are at the top of the list. Even so, most natural products have not been tested rigorously for safety or efficacy in children, so there is little evidence available.
There are a number of safety considerations about the use of natural products in children, among them the possibilities of product contamination and drug interactions. And you should be aware that children are not “small adults” and that supplements can have side effects in children that differ from adults.
There are resources on the NCCAM Web site that can help you be an informed consumer and learn more about complementary health approaches in children as well as the safety of dietary supplements. I encourage you to check out this information and ask your child’s health care provider about the effectiveness and possible risks of any natural product you are considering or are already using for your child. Also, talk to your teenagers about what, if any, natural products they may be taking, and remind them to discuss them with their health care providers. Take care and be well!