Alternative Medicine

Dangerous? 9 Percent of US Infants Given Herbal Medicine

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By Kate Wharmby Seldman

Nine percent of infants have been given herbal supplements and teas, according to a large FDA study whose results have just been released.

The study was conducted by the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, by Dr. Yuanting Zhang and his colleagues at the US Food and Drug Administration. Its results were published online in the journal Pediatrics.

From 2005 to 2007, Dr. Zhang et al. surveyed more than 2600 mothers in the US to find out how many of them had given their baby one or more herbal supplement or tea in their baby’s first year of life. The researchers said they had oversampled white mothers, which means their results need to be adjusted in terms of national prevalence – rather than nine percent, the real percentage of US moms who’ve given their babies these products is more likely to be between three and 10 percent.

One of the most common herbal remedies mothers used was gripe water, a natural colic remedy containing ginger and fennel. Other remedies used included chamomile tea, probiotics, and homeopathic teething tablets whose ingredients included calcium and chamomile. The ailments moms most used natural remedies to treat: colic, fussiness, teething or digestive issues.

Studies don’t indicate that these natural preparations are very helpful, however. Pediatrics also recently published a review of 15 studies of herbal medicines for infant ailments, and there wasn’t very much evidence to suggest they worked well. In fact, because these remedies aren’t regulated in the same way as traditional medicine, they may be contaminated with harmful ingredients. Ayurvedic medicines have sometimes been found to contain toxic levels of lead. In 2007, one brand of gripe water was found to be contaminated with the bacteria cryptosporidium, which can cause intestinal problems.

The FDA team conducting the research suggests that these medicines should not be used for the first four to six months of a baby’s life, especially teas and other liquids, because they could potentially satiate a baby’s appetite to the point that he or she turns down breast milk or formula.

The study also found that moms who breastfed as opposed to formula fed were more likely to give their babies herbal medicines.

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