Parents compliment me on my guidance about whether complementary medicine is appropriate for use in children. Let me prescribe some information based on a recent clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Ten percent of children receive complementary therapies.

Some people call these “non-conventional therapies.” Complementary therapies do not replace conventional medical treatments. They accompany, or complement, them.

Complementary therapies fall into two groups.

One is natural products, such as vitamins, mineral, herbs and probiotics. The other includes dietary supplements and mind and body practices such as acupuncture, massage, yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques.

It’s important to know that these therapies have been or are being studied. Some have been found to be effective in children. For example, probiotics or dietary supplements that contain microorganisms may shorten cases of infectious diarrhea and relieve abdominal pain. Probiotics reduce and possibly prevent serious intestinal complications in pre-term babies.

Mind-body therapies like biofeedback have been found to help asthmatics control their breathing, and reduce pain from headaches. Research shows that meditation and yoga can help children reduce stress and possibly ease recurrent abdominal pain.

Are there risks to complementary therapies?

These therapies are risky only if used in the absence of conventional therapy. For example, a mind-body therapy like massage shouldn’t replace chemotherapy, surgery or radiation for cancer treatment. Massage should be in the mix with those conventional cancer treatments.

What do I recommend?

Talk with your child’s health care professional about complementary therapies. We want to learn about these therapies and understand their scientific merit. We also want to understand their risks. These include potential negative interactions with recommended conventional treatments or medications.

I hope you’ll keep in mind tips like these when working with your child’s health care professional. That way, you can work together to better understand whether complementary therapies are right for your child.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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