Science, Now + Beyond

“Alternative medicine” may be killing your children

The rise of alternative medicine is concerning to many scientists and health care professionals, especially when parents force these remedies on developing bodies and brains.

A whole array of health related fads seem to pop up every year, and for some, it can be difficult to know which of these are safe.

Alternative medicine has become increasingly popular as treatments for both children and adults. Many scientists and nutritionists are concerned for the about parents forcing such treatments and diets on their children, as some suggestions made by practitioners of alternative medicine can be extremely detrimental to the health of young people who are still growing and developing.

A recent study has claimed that acupuncture may be a remedy for babies who suffer from extreme colic. Colic is a condition where healthy babies cry an excessive amount, and cannot seem to be calmed down. Putting aside the thought of poking very, very young children with needles, it is important to note that there is very little evidence that acupuncture works as a treatment for colic.

Dr David Colquhoun, Professor Emeritus at University College London, when responding to the release of this study, called it “An appallingly bad paper on acupuncture“. He has also criticized the methods used, and stated that the findings were not statistically significant.

Some consider acupuncture to be a remedy for colicky babies. Many others disagree.

When it comes to diets, there are many to choose from, but the most well-known may be the paleo diet. This diet advocates “healthy eating” a la the paleolithic era, and encourages the rejection of foods containing dairy, grains and legumes, starches, and processed sugars. Peter Evans is one of many advocates for this diet, and has published a couple of recipe books to this effect.

One of these books is called Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way, and was widely panned by Professor Heather Yeatman, the president of the Public Health Association of Australia, both prior to and after its release.

“In my view, there’s a very real possibility that a baby may die if this book goes ahead,” she said, and upon closer investigation, this may just be the case. Evans suggestions include a bone broth formula, which has been found to contain 4.5 times the recommended amount of Vitamin A for infants.

Rosemary Stanton, a well known nutritionist, has stated that boiling bones may result in lead levels that are too high for babies. Evans has also encouraged breast feeding mothers to give their babies camel milk, claiming that it has almost the same composition as cow’s milk. Unfortunately, camel’s milk contains 3 times the amount of protein, which may result in kidney failure.

There are many different reasons people may turn to alternative medicine. This includes a disillusion with “big pharma,” or that “normal medicine” isn’t working properly. Many are influenced by friends and family, and by anecdotes that claim to have reaped almost miraculous results. But what works for one person may not work for another.

Alternative medicine is based on harnessing the body’s “natural healing ability,” and its practitioners claim to treat the root cause of the disease, as opposed to just the symptoms. And then diets like the paleo diet claim to promote wellness, thereby preventing you from getting that disease in the first place.

What’s your diet *really* costing you (and your children?)

Alternative medicine can be potentially deadly if parents or practitioners do not recognize its limits. Indeed, children have died because their parents have insisted on using herbal remedies, and others made gravely ill from it. Relying on conventional medicine, medicine that has been tried and undergone several rigorous rounds of testing, is not a weakness. It is not something that should be derided.

Of course, we should try to make sure we live healthily, and that should include a well balanced diet and a good exercise regime. But buying into these remedies will not “speed up the process,” it will not make anything easier.

When it comes to your children, it might very well make everything a whole lot worse.