Many parents ask about herbs, spinal manipulation and other treatments involving alternative care. Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) has become more popular in recent years. It includes any form of treatment that is not part of mainstream medicine.
CAM includes acupuncture (stimulating points on the body, usually with a needle), traditional Oriental medicine (focuses on diagnosing disturbances of energy in the body), homeopathy (diluting substances that typically cause a problem and give them to treat a problem), and community based healers like midwives, herbalists and others. Alternative therapy uses holistic methods, which means that the practitioner treats the "whole" person and not just the disease or condition. In alternative medicine, many practitioners address patients' emotional and spiritual needs as well.
The most common form of alternative medicine is a change in diet or lifestyle. This is widely accepted by mainstream medicine. Many people take supplements if their regular diet does not have enough vitamins or minerals. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet of many whole grains and vegetables is an important part of overall well being. This is one of the most useful forms of alternative care because altering your diet and habits not only helps treat many diseases but can help prevent them as well.
Mind-body control focuses on the mind's role in conditions that affect the body. Hypnosis can help some people deal with addictions, pain or anxiety. Other treatments like psychotherapy, meditation and yoga are used for relaxation. Support groups and prayer also are included in this form of CAM. All of these are generally felt to be safe by mainstream medicine when a part of an overall health plan.
Herbal remedies include a wide range of plants used for medicine or nutrition. They are available in grocery stores, in health food stores, online, or through herbalists, but are not regulated by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Because of this, any herbal therapy is not guaranteed to contain only the ingredients in the amount listed on the bottle. Some have been found to contain lead and other contaminants which may be harmful. Many interact with other medications and not all of these interactions are known.
Manual Healing Treatments
Manual healing treats medical problems by manipulating and realigning body parts. This includes chiropractic care, which focuses on the nervous system and adjusting the spinal column; massage therapy; osteopathic medicine, which uses manipulation in addition to traditional medicine and surgical treatment; and healing touch, where practitioners place their hands on or near the patient's body to direct energy.
Lastly, the field of bioelectromagnetics looks at how changes in the body's electromagnetic fields can affect health. Bioelectromagnetics is based on the idea that electrical currents in all living organisms produce magnetic fields that extend beyond the body.
What are the risks of CAM?
The lack of scientific study means that some potential problems associated with alternative therapies may be difficult to identify. Studies that have been done are on adults, not children. Although approaches such as prayer, massage and lifestyle changes are generally considered safe, some therapies might have risks. Foregoing traditional medical care for some diseases or conditions with well accepted mainstream treatments (such as diabetes) may cause harm to the child.
Lack of FDA Regulation
Unlike prescription and over-the-counter medicines, herbal remedies are not rigorously regulated by the FDA. They face no extensive tests before they are marketed and they do not have to adhere to a standard of quality. The amount of herb can vary from pill to pill, with some capsules containing much less of the active herb than stated on the label. Depending on where the herb originated, there might also be other plants, even drugs like steroids, mixed in the capsules. Some herbs are contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals.
Natural Does Not Equal Good
"Natural" does not equal "good". For instance, marijuana is a naturally growing plant that can stimulate appetite and treat glaucoma, among other things, but most parents would not want to give this to a child because of the known side effects. Medicating a child without consulting the child's doctor could result in harm because of drug interactions, liver damage, high blood pressure, or allergic reactions.
Another issue is finding a reputable CAM provider. Although many states have licensing boards for specialists in acupuncture or massage, for instance, there is no organization in the United States that monitors alternative care providers or establishes standards of treatment. Basically, almost anyone can claim to be a practitioner, whether or not he or she has any training. Unfortunately, since the majority of mainstream medical practitioners receive little or no training in CAM, we are usually not prepared to adequately guide patients in finding a good CAM provider.
Talk to Your Physician and Pharmacist
Talk to your physician and pharmacist before beginning any complimentary or alternative medicine. Remind us of all medications, including supplements and herbs, which each child is taking at every visit. This will help ensure that there are no known interactions with any therapies. We need to learn to work together to encompass all aspects of health care.
Dr. Stuppy has written about specific natural treatments and supplements that may or may not be shown to be beneficial against viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other illnesses - Which Supplements Help Prevent and Treat Infections?