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Herbal Medicine: 101

As a pediatrician trained in both western (M.D.) and alternative (Ayurvedic) medicine, I am always careful to ask the families in my practice what vitamins or supplements or herbs they have addede to their daily health regimen so that we can work together to insure the health and safety of their child.

As a pediatrician trained in both western (M.D.) and alternative (Ayurvedic) medicine, I am always careful to ask the families in my practice what vitamins or supplements or herbs they have added to their daily health regimen so that we can work together to insure the health and safety of their child.

Unfortunately, despite an exponential rise in the number of people in the USA using herbal supplements and dietary supplements, less than half of these people feel comfortable talking to their regular doctor about their use.


Many conventional doctors are still not comfortable recommending herbal products, often because they have had no formal training in the discipline and feel unsure or insecure about admitting that!

And, many patients come to the doctor’s office having read more about supplements than their doctor, but what is potentially dangerous is that what they have read is not necessarily the most unbiased or accurate information.

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Remember that herbal products and dietary supplements are unregulated- which means they are widely available but their production, sale and use is not supervised.

For example, herbal products, unlike prescription and over-the-counter drugs, are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore, there is no guarentee of purity and some products may contain toxic contaminants including drugs and heavy metals. Furthermore, the claims made on the packages are not regulated, because they are not considered “drugs” so a company can write information about their product that has not been substantiated. Finally, the recommended doses are not held to FDA regulatory standards and can often be dangerously vague.

So, lets review some common herbs that are widely available:

  1. Echinacea for Fighting Cold Symptoms, Boosting Immunity Echinacea is one of the most popular herbs in the United States and is sold as an immune enhancer/immune booster. Most researchers would now agree that echinacea is effective in the prevention of common cold symptoms. The most common side effects of echinacea supplements are an unpleasant taste and allergic reactions in patients who have ragweed allergies.
  2. Garlic: Mixed results Immunity Many patients use garlic therapeutically to lower cholesterol and blood pressure but the results are very mixed. Garlic is best used in children for relieving the pain and discomfort from ear infections, when mixed with Mullein oil. The most obvious side effect of garlic supplementation is malodorous breath and garlic-like body odor.
  3. St. John's Wort This yellow flowering plant (Hypericum perforatum) is named after St. John the Baptist. The herbal product has 10 constituents, of which hypericin is believed to be the most active ingredient in treating depression. I believe that the safer uses of St. Johns Wort is topically to relieve the aches and pains from exercise or injury, viral rashes, molluscum and mild skin irritations.
  4. Valerian, Chamomile, Ginger: Calming Agents Valerian Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) has been used for centuries for its calming effects and to help with insomnia or anxiety associated with airplane travel. Unfortuantely, some patients have the opposite response, namely they become restless and anxious. This herb should be used only under direction from your pediatrician and should not be used if you are pregnant or nursing. Chamomile Chamomile is used throughout the world for calming and soothing. Chamomile also has moderate antioxidant benefit. Chamomile tea with honey is an excellent way to soothe children who have respiratory infections, but it should be used with caution in patients who are allergic to ragweed, because of as cross-allergenicity. Remember that children under one year of age should never have honey. Ginger Ginger has been used for centuries to prevent nausea and vomiting. It is a safe and effective when given as an Ale or tea or chewable. In children, be aware that thebitter taste may make some children upset- I recommend stirring the bubbles out of GingerAle and serving it to them cold.

Let me know if this is helpful, and I hope you will look forward to more herbal updates each month.


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