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Herbs and Kids

Several new herbal products are dosed, packaged and marketed for kids, perhaps leading some parents to believe they are safe. Are they? People have varying degrees of confidence in them.

As a number of new herbal products specifically made for kids hit the market, some are debating whether use by children is wise.

Though the use of dietary and herbal supplements has exploded in the last decade, critics note there are no quality standards for their production. Plus, controlled scientific studies have only just begun in the United States. And there are virtually no results so far on use by children.

But that doesn't mean parents, their kids and some herbal specialists aren't snapping up the new products — dosed, packaged, and marketed for children.

"About 90 percent of [my] practice is children," says Dr. Mary Bove, a naturopathic physician practicing in Vermont. "A lot of parents were bringing their children in for natural alternative care and I knew this was needed."

Bove's lifelong fascination with herbs led her to a career as a medical herbalist and recently to her own line of herbal treatments for children.

Tamara Balsamides is one of those parents who looks first to herbs in treating her two children, ages 6 months and 4 years old, although they also see a pediatrician.

"My kids have never been on antibiotics," she says. "I believe in vitamin C, echinacea, zinc, lots of sleep."

Many Advise Caution

But experts in the herbal field, as well as the medical establishment, remind consumers that herbs can have powerful effects. Especially where children are concerned, they say, herbs should only be used with the advice of a sympathetic physician or another trained professional.

Balsamides has an arsenal of herbs and extracts, and she mixes her own medicinal teas and tinctures. To know how to do that, she's taken some courses. But without training or professional advice, a parent is basically experimenting on a child, some say.

Dr. Varro Tyler, a pharmacologist at Purdue University who studies herbs, thinks that's a bad idea.

"As long as there is no official certification of their quality, I think it is wrong to impose them on children," he says.

Official Guidelines

Yet as alternative treatments become mainstream for adults, those adults will likely take a similar approach for their children. In fact, so many families are now using alternative medicines that the American Association of Pediatrics recently published guidelines for doctors on how to work with families who use them (see web link at right).

Bove wants to make it easier — and safer — for parents who do so.

"What I would hope it most does is that it helps to empower them to take a little bit more responsibility for their families' health," she says. "And that it gives them another step to use before they need to seek professional help."


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