Why complementary and alternative medicines are growing in popularity

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

In recent years, we've seen a growing trend in the use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) in pediatric healthcare to either replace or supplement traditional western medicine.

But many parents don't understand exactly what complementary and alternative medicines are, or how these treatments impact their child's care. Some pediatricians warn that parents need to use extra caution when using CAM.

Complementary and alternative medicine is a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices and products that are not currently considered to be part of conventional western medicine.

For example, in a traditional western setting, when your child is sick, his pediatrician will prescribe an antibiotic or a prescription medicine to alleviate his discomfort. With alternative medicine, a person would forgo the traditional prescription medicine and treat the illness with methods that are not considered part of conventional medical care, such as herbal supplements or acupuncture.

Complementary medicine combines alternative treatments with traditional medical care. Nationwide Children's often uses massage therapy to accompany traditional physical therapy to alleviate the discomfort caused by the treatment.

The greatest risk happens when parents don't inform their child's primary care physician or specialist that their child is receiving CAM care. Parents should tell the doctor when their child is taking vitamins, any over-the-counter herbal compound, or receiving alternative care like massage therapy.

Although most multivitamins alone aren't likely to cause a problem, it's still a good policy for parents to share what complementary medications they are giving their children. Doctors are finding that parents of children with chronic illnesses are often frustrated with traditional medicines and use alternative medicines to treat the child's condition, which is particularly dangerous since these kids may be at a higher risk for drug interaction.

The issue with CAM, such as herbal supplements and vitamins, is that unlike conventional prescriptions, these alternative medicines are not thoroughly tested through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA continues to monitor prescription drugs for problems and requires drug companies to alter their approved drugs over time.

Herbs and vitamins are not regulated by the FDA. The manufacturers can advertise to the public just like FDA-approved drugs as long as they inform consumers that they are not FDA-approved or regulated, and aren't intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Talk to your doctor if you are thinking about incorporating complementary medicine into your treatment. Some methods like massage therapy and guided imagery can be quite helpful, particularly with pain management.

What is CAM?

What is considered Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)?

  • Massage therapy
  • Vitamins
  • Herbal supplements
  • Guided imagery
  • Acupuncture

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Each month, Pediatric HealthSource shares the latest treatment and research advancements from Nationwide Children's Hospital. This column is part of an ongoing community education project brought to you by: Discount Drug Mart.