Natural Therapies and Children

We hear a lot of talk and get many questions about the merits of traditional “folk” remedies over conventional medicines. “When I was young, my mom fed me a bunch of tomato soup and orange juice and that seemed to clear up my cold…”

Some of these ‘holistic” remedies may indeed provide some relief, and there is some merit to healthy eating and plenty of fluids for some illnesses. Sometimes, however, conventional medicine – a prescribed medication – is what’s needed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a brief FAQ about the ins-and-outs of natural cures. We’re happy to share it below.

Is it OK to give my child “natural” therapies when she’s sick?
While most children in North America receive conventional medicine when they are sick, many parents want to know about natural therapies too. Alternative, complementary, and integrative medicine and folk remedies are some words used to describe these different therapies. Here’s a few things you should know:

Are all “natural” therapies safe?
No. Therapies are not safe just because they are natural. Side effects from natural therapies are rare but can occur. Check with your child’s doctor before adding or changing a therapy. Talk about what you’ve heard and read about natural therapies. Bring the products you give your child to your next medical appointment.

Does the US Food & Drug Administration regulate natural products?
Yes. the FDA regulates natural products such as dietary supplements. But they are regulated as a food and not as medicine. While most people can avoid buying rotten tomatoes or bruised fruit, it’s much harder to avoid poor-quality supplements. The FDA does not guarantee the purity, potency, effectiveness, or safety of natural products sold as dietary supplements.

Do natural therapies really work?
More research is needed for all kinds of therapies for children, including natural therapies. Some work for children with certain conditions but not for children with other conditions. This is true for conventional and natural therapies. For example, massage may help reduce stress, but it not a cure for cancer.

Do you need a special license to practice complementary medicine?
Each state has a different licensing rules. Check with the licensing board for your state to find out if a health professional has a license to practice. If your state does not require a license to practice (for example, some states do not license acupuncturists), be sure the professional is certified by a national professional organization. Always ask about a practitioner’s training and experience. Find out if the practitioner has been specifically trained to treat children and how many children he or she treats each week.

Will insurance pay for it?
Insurance companies and flexible medical spending accounts have many different plans that cover different things. There is often less coverage for complementary therapies than for conventional care. Check with your insurance company.

Why is it important to talk to my child’s doctor about these treatments?
Talking with your child’s doctor helps you know if a treatment is safe and effective. Talk about all therapies given to your child including vitamins, herbs, or other supplements. This is especially important because there can be dangerous side effects when medicines or therapies are given at the same time. Include information about other health professionals caring for your child so care can be coordinated.
Ask all of your child’s health care professionals to talk with each other. Open communication is the best way to promote the safest care possible.


The cost of prescriptions is rapidly becoming the most expensive part of our health care. Presently there is very little control over the price that manufacturers are charging and it’s costing us and our country dearly.

You’ve probably heard about companies like Valeant who successfully increased the cost of medications and are not being held responsible for this change. You’ve probably heard about the ridiculous price of Epipens, the price increases for AIDS medications propagated by everyone’s favorite drug villain Martin Shkreli, and essential medications for patients with Wilson’s Disease that used to cost 100’s of dollars a year now costing them $300,000 a year.

Generic medications are no longer the cheapest option because drug manufacturers have unique contracts with certain insurance companies that allow their branded products to be “cheaper” than the generics. If you have a high deductible or HSA health plan, you’re the one paying these vastly inflated prices. Pharmacy and insurance company shareholders and stocks are loving it, but your wallet is paying for it.

Pharmacists are not allowed to tell you about cheaper options. Most pharmaceutical and insurance companies have enacted gag orders for pharmacists so they are legally not allowed to help you. This is frustrating, confusing, and expensive for doctors, for the country, and for you.

There are a few things that you can do to try and combat this change.

First of all, be your own advocate. Do not automatically pay for a medication if it seems ridiculously expensive. Doctors really can’t effectively keep up with the changing prices of the medications we prescribe. Deals and contracts are changing faster than even our electronic medical records can keep up. So ask before you swipe that credit card. Ask if there are any cheaper options. If you do ask, the pharmacist can help you; if you don’t, they can’t. Ask your pharmacist about coupons. Once again, if you ask, they can help you; if you don’t, they can’t.

It’s a mad, mad world where a few people are making a lot of money and you and I are paying for it. Until there is some action taken by the powers that have influence, these prices will continue to rise. Until then, be careful, be wise, ask questions, and make sure you’re getting the best deal possible before you swipe that card.