I recently came across a headline in the paper which shouted “Children should never take complementary medicine”. I noticed that the story made it to other newspapers and to the evening news. The story was of a child who had been prescribed a mix of vitamins and herbal medicines by a so-called complementary medicine practitioner in London. The practitioner told the parents to continue with the medicine despite the fact that the child was getting increasingly ill and eventually ended up in hospital with dangerously high levels of calcium in his blood , probably due to overdosing on vitamin D. The story is shocking and is highlighting a problem in giving a child a high dose of vitamins. However, to jump from this to a conclusion that children should never take complementary medicine is very wrong. Actually, I believe the truth to be the complete opposite. Everything that makes me believe that people should use less medications and more natural cures is true for the treatment of children just as it is in the case of adults. Problems like toxicity, addiction and dependency are just as bad, if not more so, when the children are patients. The fact that most of the medicines prescribed by Doctors are for the symptoms only and have no effect on the progress of a condition is the same for children. It is therefore common sense to try and save our children from the use of medicine, where possible, by treating them with a natural, healthy and safe treatment.
However, I am completely aware of the sensitivity when it comes to children, and also of the problems and fears parents have regarding taking their child to a practitioner who is not an NHS Doctor.
So, is there a real problem with the use of complementary medicine (CM) with children? I have to admit that my research into the matter brought up some unpleasant revelations. I found a few documented cases where children who had been treated with CM ended up very ill. There were even two cases of death. After a closer look at these cases a clearer picture started to emerge. Almost all of these children were very young (under 2 years old). A few of them had a very serious medical condition to start with (this includes the two cases of mortality). In many cases, the reason for the children’s deterioration was considered to be the fact that that they had stopped their conventional medication, prescribed by the doctor and not the CM medicines (also here the two cases of mortality are included). In all the cases I looked at the practitioner who treated the children was described as an Complentary Medicine Practitioner.
Looking at these horrifying cases how can I still justify my earlier statement that children should be treated with complementary medicine? To try and explain let’s look back at these cases. There are a few very important points:
- a) The numbers: These cases are extremely rare in comparison to the number of children who suffer serious reactions and death as a result of the use of conventional medicine prescribed by the Doctors. In the paper article the eminent doctor declared “Complementary Medicine is not completely safe”. Of course it’s not. Nothing is completely safe-but it’s still a lot safer than conventional medicine.
- b) In most of these cases the children were very young (under 2 years old). We have to be more careful treating babies. The smaller the body the bigger the risk if there is an adverse reaction to a treatment. In Chinese Medicine the treatment of children carries a different set of rules and considerations to the treatment of an adult. I would suggest to parents who are considering taking their babies for a treatment to choose their practitioner carefully. Only take your baby to a practitioner who is well qualified and has a vast experience in treating young children and babies.
- c) A large number of the children who had a serious reaction to CM treatment had a serious medical condition. Children with a serious medical diagnosis, in my opinion, should only be treated with CM by a Practitioner who is also a Medical Doctor in order for them to have a good understanding of their condition.
- d) In many of these cases the reason for the deterioration was in stopping the conventional medicine given by the Doctor. I cannot stress it enough: a CM Practitioner should NEVER stop a patient taking his medication, prescribed by his G.P. or specialist, unless the CM Practitioner is a medical doctor himself. I am a medical doctor and still I will not make my patients stop taking their medicine without the agreement of their G.P.
- e) This point may sound strange but I think it is actually very important. In all the cases I was looking at, the practitioner who was treating the child was described as a Complementary Medicine Practitioner. I don’t really know what that means and I am not sure that something like this actually exists – and if it does I most certainly would not let one treat my child. Complementary medicine is a whole range of different disciplines; a practitioner can be a Homeopath, Herbalist, Chiropractor, Acupuncturist, and so on. They all belong in the general field of CM but are completely specialised and different to each other. To paint them all as being the same with sentences like “children should never be treated with complementary medicine” is absurd. It shows a lack of understanding and respect of the issue and it is also extremely unscientific. On the other hand there may actually be people who describe their practice as CM Practitioners: again, I’m not sure what it is but I will stay well away.
To sum up: I definitely think that treating children with different types of complementary medicine is a very positive thing as long as we follow some common sense guide lines: make sure the practitioner is well-qualified, registered and experienced in working with children. Children with serious medical conditions should only be seen by a practitioner who is also a medical doctor and never stop prescribed medicine unless instructed to do so by a doctor. If you follow these guidelines I am sure your child will benefit from safe and effective treatment. I have often used CM with my children over the years- they have had treatment with homeopathy, Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture and chiropractic, all with great results. For small children I am particularly fond of homeopathy, being gentle and being tasteless make the medicines very easy to administer to children.
I hope this post will help to dispel any fears arising due to medical science ignorance of the subject. Our children deserve it.