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Supplemental Care

Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page HE02

Recent surveys suggest that 28 to 40 percent of children are given herbal supplements and extracts for asthma, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, insomnia, colds and other conditions, despite scant evidence of these products' safety and efficacy. A new study says there is not enough evidence to prove the value of giving garlic, cranberry juice and echinacea to kids, and it says there have been too few peer-reviewed studies on chamomile, feverfew, ginger and ginkgo to draw conclusions.

Better Than Nothing? The study, in the March issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, reviewed placebo-controlled trials from 1960 through 2003 of the most commonly used herbal products; there were no more than a handful of such trials for each product. Lead author Gail Mahady, of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said effectiveness and safety data looked at least somewhat promising for Andrographis paniculata (an Asian herb) as a cold-prevention treatment; ivy leaf extract for decreasing asthma symptoms and cough; evening primrose oil to relieve atopic dermatitis; and valerian root for promoting sleep. But, she said, the paucity of data should give parents pause.

(John Fletcher For The Washington Post)

Tell a Doc Doctors say they want to know if your kids take herbals, noting that these products, like drugs, may have side effects, including interactions with medications.

"Ultimately, it's the family's decision to decide what risk they want to take," said pediatrician Nathaniel Beers of Children's National Medical Center in Washington.

A colleague was less accepting. If parents insist on using herbals, "let me at least monitor it, especially if the child is taking other drugs," said Donald Greydanus, pediatrics program director at Michigan State University and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics's alternative and complementary medicine task force. Greydanus said he discourages herbal use in kids, particularly when proven therapies for their ailments exist.

-- Alicia Ault

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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