By Dana Ullman MPH
Children often resist taking conventional medicines. Perhaps our children have been trying to tell us something. Perhaps they know something that their physician and their parents don't.*
Whether children actually know or sense that homeopathic medicines are good for them for not, they deserve safe medicines. It is time that parents and physicians seek safe, natural and effective alternatives to conventional, potentially harmful drugs. Homeopathic medicine is one such alternative.
Many parents consider homeopathy a godsend to their children as well as to themselves. Homeopathic medicines can be quick and effective for treating infant teething or colic, turning cranky babies into giggling cherubs. They can reduce the pain and discomfort of a child's earache, which sharply decreases the need for antibiotics or ear tubes. They can strengthen the child's own natural defenses so that he can fight off that cold or flu that every other kid in school seems to be getting. And they can benefit the hyperactive child, helping to calm his restlessness.
Homeopathic remedies are able not only to relieve many common acute problems of children, but can help prevent recurrent bouts of illness. And homeopathic medicines can treat both physical ailments and emotional upsets.
With the aid of some basic knowledge, all of these valuable benefits are within your grasp.
[*Footnote: It is interesting to note that veterinarians who practice homeopathic medicine have commonly observed that animals seem to be less frightened when they are treated with homeopathic remedies than when they are given conventional drugs. Once again, perhaps our pets know something that many of us don't know or resist knowing.]
A growing number of parents are concerned about the side effects of conventional drugs, especially in the treatment of babies and young children. Lynn and Ken Elliot of Berkeley, California, are two such parents. While they seek out their pediatrician for their baby Elizabeth's general check-ups and for diagnosis of potentially dangerous symptoms, they also feel that the best medical care often begins in the home. Instead of rushing Elizabeth to the pediatrician every time she coughs or has a cold, fever, or earache, Lynn and Ken use homeopathic medicines to treat themselves. Although both are relatively new to homeopathy, they have used these natural medicines successfully for treating many common pediatric complaints. They first tried homeopathy when Elizabeth was four months old. She had colic and was crying intensely. Although Elizabeth was relieved when she was carried and rocked, she would immediately begin wailing as soon as she was put back down in her crib. After a couple of hours, even the carrying and rocking didn't help, and Elizabeth cried almost constantly.
Ken and Lynn then remembered that a friend had given me a book on homeopathy at Elizabeth's baby shower and, after reviewing the chapter on colic, they got Chamomilla 30 (chamomile) from their homeopathic medicine kit, crushed a couple of small pellets between two spoons to make them easy for Elizabeth to swallow, and put them under her tongue. Within a minute or so Elizabeth was asleep and, upon waking, her colic was gone.
Although this may sound like a miracle cure, such miracles are common when using homeopathic medicines. Of course, such dramatic successes don't happen every time; homeopathy, like every kind of healing, has its limitations. Still, its effectiveness as well as its safety are recognized today by millions of people all over the world.
In fact, homeopathic medicine, for many reasons, has achieved such popularity in Europe that it is no longer considered an "alternative medicine." First, England's Royal Family has been under homeopathic care since the 1830s. Second, organized medicine in Europe has not been as antagonistic to homeopathy as American medical organizations have been. And third, convincing research has been published in numerous European medical and scientific journals.
One-third of the French population uses homeopathic medicines, and 39% of French family physicians prescribe them. Twenty percent of all German physicians prescribe homeopathic medicines, 42% of British physicians refer patients to homeopathic physicians, and 45% of Dutch physicians consider homeopathic medicines effective. If these figures aren't impressive enough, according to a recent market research survey, the field of alternative and complementary medicine, including homeopathy, is expanding so quickly that it was Europe's second biggest growth industry during the 1980s, second only to the computer industry. "Complementary medicine" is a term popularized by Prince Charles to emphasize that much of alternative medicine is not simply an alternative but is a valid complement to other types of medical care.
Many people in England who grew up with homeopathy are now having their own children who they regularly treat homeopathically. Such is the case with Terry and Diane Linden, who live in London and whose three children (5, 11, and 15 years of age) have been brought up using homeopathic medicines. Two of these children have never taken a conventional drug, and the other child has done so on only a couple of occasions.
Terry and Diane have noticed that many of their friends' children--treated with conventional medicines--would get recurrent bouts of their symptoms. The antibiotics that were used to treat sore throats or ear infections would have to be used again and again. Terry and Diane questioned if conventional drugs were really curative or simply acting on the symptoms alone.
Terry and Diane's children get sick occassionally just like other children, but with the aid of homeopathic medicines, they get over their illnesses relatively quickly and don't generally have recurrent bouts of the same illnesses. What's more is that Terry and Diane have begun to teach their two older children how to use homeopathic medicines themselves to treat common ailments and injuries. By teaching their children how to care for themselves with homeopathic medicines, these parents are empowering their children in a way that is in itself therapeutic.
Using safer, natural remedies, such as homeopathic medicines, is particularly important when treating infants and young children. Their young bodies are developing. Their nervous systems are just beginning to integrate with the endocrine and immune systems and with various organ systems. Although the human organism can be incredibly resilient, it can also be very fragile, especially during infancy.
Parents can be reassured that homeopathic medicines are safe for infants. Despite the fact that some homeopathic remedies are made from originally poisonous substances, they are diluted so many times that it is not possible for a baby to ingest enough of the substance to cause any damage, even if the infant swallowed the contents of an entire bottle.
To make it easier for infants to take a dose of a homeopathic medicine, you should crush the pellets or pills between two clean spoons and then place the powder in the baby's mouth. Because homeopathic medicines are made with a small amount of lactose (milk sugar) or sucrose, they have a sweet taste that most infants and children love. (Although some parents may be trying to restrict the amount of lactose and sucrose in their children's diet, the amount contained in homeopathic medicines is so small that it poses no real problems, even for diabetic children.)
The Need for Safe Alternatives
Parents tend to be more concerned about their children's diet, safety, and hygiene than they are about their own, and are inclined to seek out quality health care for their children, even for minor complaints. Unfortunately, parental concern too often translates into anxiety and fear, preventing parents from taking constructive action at home. Instead, many parents with a sick child immediately take their child to a doctor, even for minor ailments, hoping that the doctor will simply make the problem go away.
The care that conventional physicians offer is often valuable, but powerful and multiple drugs are dispensed far too frequently by too many doctors without an effort to try safer, more natural therapies. This over-prescribing is a type of "medical child abuse" that is sad state of affairs, especially since the average doctor doesn't even recognize it as a problem. It seems prudent to save the "bigger guns" of pharmacology for the more serious conditions that warrant their use.
Dr. Joe Graedon, pharmacologist and author of The People's Pharmacy, warns parents and doctors about prescribing drugs to infants and children: "Their immature organ systems often deal with drugs much differently than their grown-up version will a few years later, and the differences can lead to anything from uncomfortable reactions to deadly ones."(1)
The short-term effects of most drugs on infants and children are often unknown, and the long-term effects are not simply unknown but can be frightening. A 1990 study by the U.S. Government's General Accounting Office reviewed the 198 new drugs which were approved by the F.D.A. between 1976 and 1985.(2) The study discovered that more than half of these drugs caused serious reactions that had gone undetected until several years after widespread use. The report also showed that the drugs reviewed by the F.D.A. for use by children were twice as likely to lead to serious reactions as those approved for use by adults. Some of the most severe reactions included heart failure, anaphylactic shock, convulsions, kidney and liver failure, severe blood disorders, birth defects, blindness, and even death. The seriousness of these side effects is enough to send chills up any parent's spine; hopefully, parents and physicians will soon understand the importance of using conventional drugs more conservatively.
Most people do not realize that many conventional drugs are not tested on children.(3) The safety and effectiveness of giving drugs to children have not been established. When it comes to calculating doses or anticipating side effects, children are not little adults.(4)
Additional risks arise when a physician prescribes more than one drug at a time. Surveys have shown that over 20% of all visits to a doctor by children under 15 years of age include a prescription for two or more drugs per visit.(5) Many types of drugs, which may be relatively safe when given alone, can become dangerous when prescribed along with another drug. The long-term effect of giving certain drugs to infants, especially two or more drugs at a time, remains unknown. One day in the future we might consider frequent prescription of such drugs on infants and children to be a form of medical child abuse.
This kind of overprescribing is sometimes the result of inadequate knowledge of recent research. It also sometimes occurs because a doctor feels compelled to prescribe something for a sick child. Doctors often assume that the medicine, even if not certain to be effective, will at least have a beneficial placebo effect. However, considering the potential side effects from nearly every drug, it seems more prudent to consider more mild placebos or safer medicines, such as homeopathic remedies.
It is somehow ironic that some people consider homeopathic and other natural medicines to be "radical." It seems more appropraite to consider the use of powerful drugs and invasive surgerical treatment as radical, while natural therapies to be "conservative." Ultimately, this is part of the revolution that must take place, not only a change in the medicines we use to heal ourselves and our children, but also in the way that we think about the art of healing.
1Joe Graedon, The People's Pharmacy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985, 372.
2FDA Drug Review: Postapproval Risks 1976-85, GAO/PEMD-90-15, Gaithersburg, MD.
3Irene Wielawski, "Drug Advances Leave Children Out in the Cold," L.A. Times, January 18, 1990, E1+.
5"Highlights of Drug Utilization in Office Practice, National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 1985 NCHS Advance Data, May 19, 1987, 134.
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