A Risky Recipe: Supplements and Children

Your child has a runny nose, do you reach for the cold medicine or echinacea? More parents are using herbal remedies to treat their kids, but are they safe? Some say kids and herbal supplements could make for a risky recipe. Many supplements have labels that read "All Natural," but don't let that fool you. Some supplements contain toxins particularly dangerous for children.

Hillary Gerber would do anything to keep her two-year-old son, Sebastian, healthy. That's why she says, she gives him a regular regimen of herbal supplements. Gerber isn't alone. More and more parents are giving herbal supplements to their kids, to boost their immunity and treat everything from ear infections to ADD. In fact, Americans spent more than 500-million dollars on herbal supplements for kids in the year 2000 alone! Gerber says, "He gets over colds more quickly than other children do. He doesn't catch them as often as other children do. I see a lot of benefits for using things for cuts and scrapes for him."

Now, there's an important warning on supplements. Many leading pediatricians say herbal supplements may be dangerous for children. Dr. Paul Coates is with the National Institutes of Health. He says supplements are not regulated by the FDA and most have never been tested in kids. He says, "My own feeling is that until products like this have been adequately evaluated in children, children really should not be exposed to them." Research shows some children's supplements may contain poisons, not listed on the label. Dr. Alan Woolf at Harvard University says,"You can get a rash. In some cases, wheezing is a part of that, or swelling such as facial swelling or throat swelling. It can even interfere with breathing."

In one recent year alone, Poison Control Centers received 145 reports of kids developing life-threatening complications after taking herbals. Still not all experts think the supplements are dangerous. Dr. Murray Clarke, a pediatric homeopath says, "Just let history speak. Look at the hundreds of years that they've been used. When they're used correctly, applied correctly, only benefit applies." Dr. Clarke says parents are tired of giving antibiotics, only to see their children get sick again and again. "They're seeing what can they do to strengthen up their child's immune system, what can they do to strengthen up their child's health, rather than just patching up symptoms."

Hillary Gerber swears by the herbal supplements she gives to Sebastian. She says they're safe. "I see some really good benefits from my child using herbal remedies." Parents who use herbal supplements should discuss it with their pediatrician. They can help you decide if the remedy is the right fit for your child.