12% of US kids use CAMs, say Harvard researchers

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Alternative medicine Medicine

The children of users of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) such as homeopathy and herbal treatments are more likely to use them, Harvard Medical School researchers have found.

Residents of western countries were also more likely to use CAM but the researchers warned that such products are not benign and that contraindications when taken alongside pharmaceuticals for those seeking to cure disease, should be consulted on in advance.

Writing in the February issue of Pediatrics, ​lead researcher Dr Gurjeet Birdee said CAM use was most common among adolescents and those that used prescription drugs.

Vitamins and minerals were excluded from the study that was based on a government-funded survey of 9417 under-18s that found 12 percent of children and adolescents in the US used CAM.

The researchers wanted to find out what differentiated CAM users from non-CAM users and found CAM users suffered from conditions such as anxiety, musculoskeletal conditions and skin conditions.


In regard to potential CAM-pharma contraindications, Birdee said: "Health-care providers need to inquire about CAM use in households and advise patients appropriately regarding clinical efficacy, or lack thereof, and potential adverse interactions between herbs and drugs."

"Further research is necessary to guide pediatricians in making recommendations on CAM modalities for children, including potential risks and/or benefits and interactions with conventional therapies,"​ Birdee added.

Pediatrician, Dr Steven E. Lipshultz, was quoted in HealthDay Reporter stating children had to be careful as many that took CAM were being treated for serious diseases such as cancer. He said 66 percent of children with cancer tried CAM, but little research had been conducted into their potential side-effects.

"These integrated therapies are almost not appreciated at all,"​ Lipshultz said. "This study shows the number of kids using these therapies. The problem is that few cancer specialists for children, and very few families, consider the importance of asking about CAM or volunteering that information.”

Other conditions where care needed to be exercised included asthma, heart disease or diabetes.

CAM sales in 2007 totaled about​$34bn according to a survey conducted by the​Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with $14.8bn used to purchase products such as omega-3s, glucosamine and botanicals such as Echinacea and valerian.

The other $20bn went on CAM products such as essential massage oils, healing classes and materials such as CAM guides, textbooks, meditation mats and crystals.

In 2007, Americans made about 354m visits to CAM practitioners such as acupuncturists, chiropractors and massage therapists.

"These data indicate that the US public makes millions of visits to CAM providers each year and spends billions of dollars for these services, as well as for self-care forms of CAM,"​ said Richard L. Nahin, PhD, MPH, acting director of NCCAM's Division of Extramural Research and lead author of the cost of complementary and alternative medicine analysis.

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