Children and Complementary Health Approaches
On this page:
- Key Points
- Patterns in the Use of Complementary Health Approaches in Children
- Safety of Complementary Health Approaches for Children
- If You’re Considering a Complementary Health Approach for Your Child
- Selecting a Complementary Health Practitioner
- Key References
- For More Information
According to a national survey, a wide range of complementary health approaches, including dietary supplements, spinal manipulation, and yoga, are used by or given to children. This fact sheet offers information for parents who may be thinking about or are already using a complementary health approach for their child.
- Nearly 12 percent of American children (aged 4 to 17) have used or been given a complementary health product or practice.
- Few studies have examined the effects of complementary health approaches on children.
- Tell all your child's health care providers about any complementary health approaches your child uses or is given. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your child's health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
Patterns in the Use of Complementary Health Approaches in Children
According to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which included a comprehensive survey on the use of complementary health approaches by Americans, 11.6 percent of the more than 10,000 children aged 4 to 17 included in the survey had used or been given some form of complementary health product or practice during the past year.
The most frequently used complementary approaches for children were natural products1 such as fish oil, melatonin, or probiotics and chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation.
For children, complementary approaches were most often used for back or neck pain, other musculoskeletal conditions, head or chest colds, anxiety or stress, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and insomnia or trouble sleeping.
For more information from the NHIS on children's use of complementary approaches, including natural products and mind and body practices, visit our 2012 NHIS Statistics pages.
1 This does not include vitamins and minerals.
Children who use or are given complementary health products or practices vary in age and health status. For example, other studies on use show that:
- Up to 10 percent of infants are given teas or botanical supplements, usually for fussiness or stomach problems.
- Between 21 and 42 percent of children take multivitamins, according to a 2012 study. Children aged 2 to 8 were the most likely to take vitamins. However, they were also the only age group who had nutritionally adequate diets whether they took multivitamins or not.
- Teens are particularly likely to use products that claim to enhance sports performance, energy levels, or weight loss.
- More than half of children with chronic medical conditions use some form of complementary health approach, usually along with conventional care.
Safety of Complementary Health Approaches for Children
Many complementary health products and practices aren't tested for safety or effectiveness in children. It's important to note that children may react differently than adults. Also, Federal regulations for dietary supplements are less strict than those for prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Some dietary supplements may be of poor quality or contain contaminants, including drugs, chemicals, or metals.
For more information, see safety tips on complementary health approaches for children and teens on the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s (NCCIH) Web site at 5 Things To Know About Safety of Dietary Supplements for Children and Teens and 5 Tips on Safety of Mind and Body Practices for Children and Teens.
If You’re Considering a Complementary Health Approach for Your Child
- Make sure that your child has received an accurate diagnosis from a licensed health care provider.
- Educate yourself about the potential risks and benefits of complementary health approaches.
- Ask your child’s health care provider about the effectiveness and possible risks of approaches you’re considering or already using for your child.
- Visit the resources included in the “For More Information” section below.
- Remind your teenagers to discuss with their health care providers any complementary health approaches they may use.
- Don’t use any health product or practice that hasn’t been proven safe and effective to replace or delay conventional care or prescribed medications.
- If a health care provider suggests a complementary health approach, don’t increase the dose or duration of the treatment beyond what is recommended (more isn’t necessarily better).
- If you have any concerns about the effects of a complementary approach, contact your child’s health care provider.
- As with all medications, store herbal and other dietary supplements out of the sight and reach of children.
- Tell all your child’s health care providers about any complementary health approaches your child uses. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your child’s health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. For tips about talking with your child’s health care provider about complementary health approaches, see NCCIH’s Time to Talk campaign.
Selecting a Complementary Health Practitioner
- If you’re looking for a complementary health practitioner for your child, be as careful and thorough in your search as you are when looking for conventional care. Be sure to ask about the practitioner’s:
- Experience in coordinating care with conventional health care providers
- Experience in delivering care to children
- Education, training, and license. Some states have licensing requirements for certain complementary health practitioners, such as chiropractors, naturopathic doctors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists.
For more information, see 6 Things To Know When Selecting a Complementary Health Practitioner.
For More Information
The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.
A service of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals.
NIH Clinical Research Trials and You
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created a Web site, NIH Clinical Research Trials and You, to help people learn about clinical trials, why they matter, and how to participate. The site includes questions and answers about clinical trials, guidance on how to find clinical trials through ClinicalTrials.gov and other resources, and stories about the personal experiences of clinical trial participants. Clinical trials are necessary to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases.
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews is a collection of evidence-based reviews produced by the Cochrane Library, an international nonprofit organization. The reviews summarize the results of clinical trials on health care interventions. Summaries are free; full-text reviews are by subscription only.
- Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin RL. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults and children: United States, 2007. (299KB PDF) CDC National Health Statistics Report #12. 2008.
- Black LI, Clarke TC, Barnes PM, Stussman BJ, Nahin RL. Use of complementary health approaches among children aged 4–17 years in the United States: National Health Interview Survey, 2007–2012. National health statistics reports; no 78. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.
- Kemper KJ, Vohra S, Walls R. American Academy of Pediatrics. The use of complementary and alternative medicine in pediatrics. Pediatrics. 2008;122(6):1374–1386.
- Woolf AD, Gardiner P. Use of complementary and alternative therapies in children. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2010;87(2):155–157.
- Zhang Y, Fein EB, Fein SB. Feeding of dietary botanical supplements and teas to infants in the United States. Pediatrics. 2011;127(6):1060–1066.
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