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Mindful Parenting: Raising Happy, Healthy Kids
The Holistic Pediatrician

Dr. Kathi Kemper is a pediatrician and the director of the Center for Holistic Pediatric Education and Research at Children's Hospital in Boston. She is also the author of The Holistic Pediatrician and a regular contributor to Body & Soul asked her to shed some light on the debate over the use of herbal remedies for the care of children and the role antibiotics should play in a sick child's treatment.

"I think many parents turn to herbs because they're natural. And there's a widespread assumption that if something is natural, it's probably safe. That turns out not to be true. Families need to know that just because something is natural, doesn't necessarily mean that it's safe. It also doesn't necessarily mean that it's ineffective. Some of our most powerful medications are derived from herbs.

"The problem with natural products is their variability and that human beings are harvesting them. Sometimes there's misidentification. Somebody thinks they're getting one mushroom that may be beneficial and in fact pick a poison mushroom by mistake. There's also contamination. Ginseng products may be contaminated with testosterone or steroids that can cause really severe side effects. Also, some of the products from Mexico and China are contaminated, not only with pesticides, but with herbicides. Heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury have been also been found.

"Just because a remedy has been used for thousands of years doesn't mean it's safe. Ma Huang has been used for over 5,000 years in China to treat asthma and allergies, and in fact, was used in American medicine up through the 1970s as a treatment for asthma. Unfortunately, teenagers in the 1980s discovered it, and it was marketed to kids as a natural "herbal ecstasy." Over 30 deaths were reported due to taking herbal ecstasy.

"Despite all the cautions that I've discussed about herbs, there are still a few that I recommend in my practice fairly often. One of them is aloe. Another herb that I use almost every day in my practice is chamomile. It has several compounds that are calming. They help relax spasms in the tummy. It's also anti-inflammatory, which means it's good for pain and for swelling and that sort of thing. And there are some scientific studies of chamomile showing that it can be helpful in infant colic. Similarly, peppermint grows very easily all over North America and is very good for an upset stomach. For children who have an upset stomach with the cold or flu, ginger is a very nice remedy.

"So when does a child really need antibiotics? Obviously if a child has meningitis or pneumonia or a kidney infections or something really serious like that, that's the time you need antibiotics for sure. If my son had strep throat, I would treat him with antibiotics, not so much to help him deal with the strep, because 99 percent of kids are going to get over their strep regardless of whether they get antibiotics, but to prevent the serious complications that can develop from strep throat.

"My view on herbs and other natural remedies is that they're the first treatment that we try at home when we have a minor illness. But if your child has a serious illness, you probably want something stronger than herbs. And so that's when you really need to see your physician and make sure that you've got the best that modern medicine has to offer."


Program Description
Adventure Game Theater
Jon & Myla Kabat-Zinn
The Holisitic Pediatrician
Nature's Way
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Body & Soul is currently airing Monday-Friday at 7:00pm and 8:30pm on PBS YOU.

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