- In great-grandma's day, kids got gingersnaps
for their stomach aches and chamomile tea for colic and teething. Now,
after years of being replaced by sophisticated medications, the "natural
remedies" for children are back.
- And not everyone thinks this return to
the good old days is good at all.
- Several supplement companies across the
country are working feverishly to design herbal supplements for children.
Some firms companies already have products on the market; others are in
the works. Among them:
- Gaia Herbs in Brevard, N.C., will introduce
20 kids' supplements on July 21, including liquid echinacea products and
a tummy tonic made with lemon balm, chamomile flowers, spearmint leaf,
catnip herb and fennel seed. (Most 1-ounce products will sell for $9.29.)
- Herbs for Kids in Bozeman, Mont., one
of the leaders in this area, has made supplements for children for seven
years. It has 25 now and in September will release a St. John's wort blend
to improve mood.
- Nature's Answer in Hauppauge , N.Y.,
has had a line for kids for two years.
- "Products for kids will become a
hot category," says Grace Lyn Rich, director of marketing for Nature's
Herbs a division of Twin Laboratories, in American Fork, Utah. "We
see that as an area to be looked at seriously."
- Some botanical experts say kids respond
well to herbs, which can be safer and more natural than synthetic medications,
and they point out that many botanicals have been used for children in
other countries for centuries. Herbal supplements appeal to some parents
who are disillusioned with modern medicine and who worry about giving their
- But critics, including physicians and
some of the nation's top herbal experts, aren't convinced. They say there
isn't enough research to warrant giving herbal products to children. They
worry that there's no good way to determine appropriate dosages and fear
that some parents will treat children with herbs rather than take them
in for medical care.
- In fact, much of the debate about herbs
for children centers on the research, or lack of it. "My general rule
is no herbs for kids," says Varro Tyler, a botanical expert and author
of The Honest Herbal (Pharmaceutical Products Press, $17.95). "I'm
opposed to the use of herbs for children simply because they have not been
tested in the proper dosage to determine their activity in children."
- David Schardt, associate nutritionist
for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based
consumer group, says, in general, herbs are pretty mild products that have
mild or modest effects. "But we are dealing in an unknown area. The
little good research that's done on herbs is done in adults. We don't know
what the effects of these supplements are on children, and there are reasons
to be concerned. Children are growing and building new tissue constantly
at a faster rate, and that makes them more vulnerable," he says.
- Marc Micozzi, executive director of the
College of Physicians of Philadelphia and author of the first medical school
textbook on complementary medicine, says research on botanicals for children
has lagged behind in this country, and many doctors and parents "are
not willing to experiment with children.''
- Herbal supplements are loosely regulated
by the Food and Drug Administration. Drugs must have safety and efficacy
proven before going on the market, but dietary supplements can be sold
with no government screening, and some have little scientific evidence
to support their effectiveness.
- Some experts say research and years of
documented use on kids taking herbs do exist.
- Mark Blumenthal, founder of the American
Botanical Council, an educational organization, says that for centuries
many cultures have mixed different herbs together for specific treatments
for children. He says weak chamomile tea and weak catnip tea have been
given to babies with colic and children with upset stomachs. Echinacea
has been used for chronic ear infections. In Germany, there is a book on
the use of herbs for children, he says.
- Unlike adult supplements, which often
are sold as pills or powders, the children's herbal products are alcohol-free
liquid extracts, which are easier for kids to take than pills. Some are
based in sweet-tasting glycerine. Steve Guettermann, general manager of
Herbs for Kids, says most herbs used in the company's products (usually
four or five for one formula) are already in your home in spice or tea
cabinets - thyme, sage, peppermint, chamomile, catnip, lemongrass. "There
aren't any mystery herbs in our products," he says. "These herbs
are used to gently get the child back on his feet."
- His company is making a St. John's wort-chamomile-lemon
balm formula that might help improve children's mood. St. John's wort has
been used in adults for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. "The
information we've looked at so far suggests it is acceptable for kids,"
- Mary Bove has used herbs to treat children
in her practice as a naturopathic physician in Brattleboro, Vt. She designed
the formulas for Gaia Herbs' new children's line; many products include
four to six herbs.
- Mixing herbs together in formulas is
fine as long as the botanicals are chemically compatible, say Bove, author
of The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children & Infants (Keats,
$14.95). Dosages specified on the bottles are based on her experiences
in her practice and knowledge gleaned from resources in England and other
- Children respond well to some herbal
medicines, agrees Donald Brown, a doctor of naturopathic medicine in Seattle
and author of Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health (Prima Publishing,
$16). For several years he has recommended herbs for kids. "I had
phenomenal success with using echinacea, especially with kids with recurring
ear infections to help reduce the need for recurrent antibiotics."
- Michael Murray, a naturopathic physician
and co-author of the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Prima Publishing,
$24.95), uses some herbal products on his own children, ages 1 and 4. If
they have a cold, he gives them extra vitamin C and echinacea, which he
says shortens the duration and severity of colds. "My approach with
herbal medicine is to keep it very simple and avoid multiple-component
formulas with kids."
- Murray says some herbs such as fennel,
licorice, peppermint, echinacea, ginger and chamomile have a long history
of worldwide use in children. "In the proper dosage they aren't going
to cause any problems."
- Some parents have been pleased with the
herbal supplements they've tried with their children. Nina Wegrzyn-Van
Zant, an Oklahoma City mother of two boys, ages 8 years and 7 months, says
she has used some Herbs for Kids products, including cough suppressants,
upset-stomach tonics and echinacea extracts.
- She always takes her kids to the doctor
if she thinks they have something serious that needs an antibiotic. But
in general, she says, "I like the idea of using herbs because they
are so much less harsh than medicine preparations. I've always liked a
more conservative approach."
- The herbal business is booming. Overall,
sales of dietary supplements, which besides herbal products include vitamins,
minerals and amino acids, were an estimated $11.8 billion last year and
are growing at a rate of 8% to 10% annually, says Grant Ferrierm, editor
of Nutrition Business Journal. in San Diego.
- It isn't likely that the market for kids
is going to go away any time soon, and experts say parents need to be informed
about herbs if they choose to use them.
- Tyler and others think there needs to
be more research on these products' safety and effectiveness. "None
of these combinations of herbs, particularly the complex combinations,
have been properly tested on anyone," Tyler says. He also thinks there
should be testing of glycerine-based tinctures.
- Brown agrees there should be more testing,
and he would like to see more "standardization of pediatric dosages."
- Until more research and testing are done,
however, parents must rely on the companies whose products they use, and
the companies aren't required to check for toxicity, safety or effectiveness.
- Murray says that when it comes to using
herbal products for kids, "you either trust the company or you don't."
- By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY