A Holistic Approach to Child Health Care
The health of your child comes down to a million little moments. (Fruit for lunch? A long nap? Stress over a math test?) A holistic approach considers them all.
So holistic medicine isn’t about cutting out the traditional stuff.
It’s about being a “both/and” problem-solver rather than an “either/or” type. For a patient with strep throat, I might prescribe
amoxicillin, and his mom might also be delighted to know that slippery-elm tea might take the sting out of his throat. When
possible, it’s about letting natural remedies and mind-body treatments, like meditation, complement mainstream medicine.
Where do mind-body treatments come in?
Pediatrics, like parenthood, is a risk-benefit analysis, and if there’s quality evidence to support that a complementary treatment
is safe and effective, then I’ll recommend it. And there is sound clinical research to support some of this stuff. Massage
therapy, for instance, can reduce symptoms in kids who have anxiety or eczema—a condition that may not be caused by stress
but is made worse by it. There are also a number of studies that indicate acupuncture can be effective for kids with conditions
like headaches or pain. On the other hand, I wouldn’t suggest a homeopathic remedy for an ear infection—not because it will
hurt anything but because it’s not clear that it will help. And parents have to be wary about the lack of regulation around
the manufacture of herbs and dietary supplements. Caveat emptor! Stick with what you can get from companies known for selling
quality products, like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
Are most kids’ health providers receptive?
You may be surprised. Studies have shown that we mainstream docs are increasingly aware of complementary treatments. I urge
parents to test the waters by asking their child’s doctor about gentle herbal remedies, like chamomile for colic and aloe
for burns. A source I recommend for initial research is NaturalDatabase.com, which lists conditions and gives you conventional medicines and natural remedies, along with information about what the
clinical evidence supports. Whatever you decide, it’s important to loop in your child’s primary-care provider, because she
knows your child and may be in the best position to understand whether a particular therapeutic approach makes sense or is
safe. A child is not a little adult. Kids have a unique physiology that changes as they grow, so we can’t necessarily administer
pharmaceutical or natural products known to work safely for grown-ups and assume they’ll be OK for a child.
Do you learn from the parents?
Absolutely. Doctors can offer clinical experience, risk analysis, and compassion. But parents give us our reality checks and
present us with new therapies to consider and chances to learn—and they help keep our eyes on the prize, which is a healthy
kid. Parents also hold the inestimable powers of love, hugs, and chicken soup.