People with viral hepatitis are increasingly investigating and using non-traditional treatments, especially herbal supplements, to help combat hepatitis-related liver disease.
Parents of children with viral hepatitis infections are no exception. E-mail message boards and online discussions reflect a lively interest in herbal supplements that may help protect children’s livers and bolster their immune systems.
But to date, little research has been conducted on the safety and efficacy of herbal supplements in children and adults with viral hepatitis, nor in the healthy adult population in general. Sometimes, experts warn, these supplements can interfere with and lessen the effectiveness of conventional drugs prescribed by doctors.
Physicians and alternative medical practitioners agree it is important that patients and parents talk to physicians ahead of time when considering alternative herbal supplements and, more critically, when taking them.
Despite a clear lack of scientific evidence, the use of complementary and alternative medicine (often called CAM for short) by the American public is popular. At a 2005 Institute of Medicine public briefing on CAM, it was stated that more than one-third of American adults routinely use CAM, spending more than $30 billion a year of their own money.
Dr. Kathi Kemper, pediatrician and director of the Center for Holistic Pediatric
Education and Research at Children’s Hospital Boston and author of The Holistic
Pediatrician, cites a 1992 pediatric outpatient survey in Montreal that found 11 percent of children had been treated by one or more alternative practitioners.
A British survey cited by Dr. Kemper found 20.5 percent of 521 children had used one or more forms of alternative treatment. In Herbs in Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Drs. Kemper and Paula Gardiner report that nearly 75 percent of teens who used alternative medicine used herbal supplements
Dr. Kemper reported that only a few herbs have been tested for safety and effectiveness, and most were tested on rats or adults—not children. Because children’s bodies process substances differently, the safety or dosage of these herbs cannot be safely evaluated based on the few available studies. Dr. Kemper’s articles repeatedly emphasize the lack of data on children treated with most herbal supplements. While a few herbs are generally considered safe based on their long, historical use, there are no clinical studies demonstrating the safety or effectiveness of most herbal treatments in the pediatric population.
For more information on this subject, read the CAM section in PKIDs’ Pediatric Hepatitis Report: http://www.pkids.org/pdf/phr/08-07cam.pdf