side effects alternative medicine kids

But new research in the Archives of Childhood Diseases suggests that many complementary and alternative remedies can have significant – even fatal – side effects.

Complementary and alternative medicine includes vitamins, herbs, and special diets.

Alissa Lim, MD, a pediatrician at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues tracked and analyzed all CAM-related adverse events reported to the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Units from January 2001 through December 2003.

There were 39 reports of such events, including four deaths that occurred among children age from birth to 16 years. The greatest risks were seen among infants who were put on restrictive diets and children with chronic illnesses who were treated with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) instead of conventional medicine. For example, a child with epilepsy died after being treated with alternative therapies instead of anticonvulsants, the study showed.

“Parents should be aware that, like any other treatments and medicines, adverse effects can be associated with CAM use,” she tells WebMD in an email. “They should talk with their doctor before changing prescribed medications or restricting their child’s fluid or diet.”

According to Lim, “the take-home message for families is to be aware of potential side effects from the use of CAM [and] weigh up the benefits and risks of any treatment they use for their children."