Parents are asking me whether the herbal medicines and remedies sold in health stores can be given to their children.  Well, let me get to the root of the matter, and plant some thoughts with you on herbs and children.

First of all, herbal remedies are everywhere we shop and will top four billion dollars in sales this year alone.  However, there have been no scientific studies performed to date proving the efficacy and safety of herbs for children and infants.  In addition, these medicines are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) so there are no established guidelines for determining the proper dosage of herbs for children.

There have been many cases of herbs being toxic to young children even when the dose given might be safe for an adult. For example, Echinacea, which adults are using more and more to treat their common cold despite a paucity of scientific data to support its use, revs up the immune and inflammatory systems in the body.  Unfortunately, asthma also revs up these systems, so if you give Echinacea to a child with asthma, they may actually find their asthma gets more severe from taking the Echinacea.

In addition, if your child is taking other non-herbal medication along with an herbal remedy, please be careful and talk to your doctor.  These medications can interact with each other in a potentially harmful way, especially if your child has high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, seizures, blood clotting problems or behavioral and emotional problems such as depression. For example, herbal medicines can actually worsen the depression if other medications are also being taken for this disorder.

I look forward to seeing studies that will show us the value of herbal remedies, especially those that will benefit children.  But in the meantime, I hope that tips like this will curb – or should I say herb – your desire to use these products in your children, without at least discussing them first with your child’s doctor

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.

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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