Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

The dangers of pushing alternative therapies on your sick kids

When you're battling whichever cold, flu or other bug that's set up shop in your household, it seems as though the amateur medical advice of well-meaning friends and family has grown exponentially.

Where they once pushed chicken soup and, maybe, vitamin C, on you and your snotty brood, the list now includes echinacea, oregano oil, astragalus root, apple cider vinegar, zinc, vitamin D, - each with their own dose and method of delivery. They're to be taken with food or without, as a tincture in water, straight-up under the tongue or gargled - once a day or three times a day.

Watch one episode of Dr. Oz and you'll be rushing off to the health food store for others, like mushroom tea and N-acetylcysteine.

Story continues below advertisement

The dizzying range of options will keep any wannabe health nut busy for an extra half hour each morning reading the fine print and wondering which treatments are actually working. And if it's confusing for adults, do we know how much of this is good advice for children? Now that cold and cough medicine is basically verboten for kids under six, parents may understandably be seeking alternatives this month.

A new Canadian study in the journal Pediatrics suggests many of us are indeed sharing our tinctures and supplements with our kids - and for much more than the common cold. As Time reports online, the use of "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) "is common among children, especially those who have been diagnosed with chronic health conditions such as asthma."

Researchers asked 926 parents at two children's hospitals (in Edmonton and Ottawa) about their CAM use and "half said their children had used the therapies at the same time they were taking conventional drugs." Ten per cent said they tried alternative therapies before turning to conventional treatments and five per cent used CAM instead of any conventional medicine, reports Time.

According to the study, the most common CAM products currently used were multivitamins/minerals, herbal products and homeopathic remedies. Common practices used included massage and chiropractic services.

(Interestingly, although demographic characteristics of the two groups were similar, CAM use at the western hospital was 71 per cent compared with 42 per cent in Ottawa.)

And while most of the parents "agreed or strongly agreed that they feel comfortable discussing CAM in their clinic," researchers worry that not all parents are willing to discuss them, setting up the potential for harmful interactions and other issues. "Given the rates of use, we would like to encourage all health care providers to ask about complementary therapies and we encourage all parents to tell," lead author Sunita Vohra told Time. "In many cases, it's not discussed because parents think doctors won't support them, but it's far better to have an open discussion."

Parents, which alternative therapies do you offer your kids? Do you discuss it with your pediatrician or family doctor?

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to